Murrieta Rotary in action
It has been one full year since polio was detected anywhere in Africa, a significant milestone in global health that has left health experts around the world quietly celebrating.
The goal had seemed tantalizingly close in recent years, but polio always managed to roar back, particularly in Nigeria. Then officials embraced a vigorous new approach to vaccination and surveillance in that country, hiring thousands of community mobilizers to track down the unvaccinated, opening operations centers nationwide to monitor progress and seeking out support from clerics and tribal chiefs.
The result has been remarkable.
The last African case of polio was detected in Somalia on Aug. 11, 2014, the final sign of an outbreak with its roots in Nigeria the one country where the virus had never been eradicated, even temporarily. But the last case in Nigeria was recorded on July 24, 2014.
Africa has never gone so long without a case of polio. But in an indication of how nervous experts still are that the disease may resurge, even the announcement from the Global Polio Eradication Initiative was tentatively headlined Is Africa Polio-Free?
This is a big success, but its still fragile, said Dr. Hamid Jafari, the initiatives World Health Organization director. Theres always a worry that there could be an undetected case in a population youre not reaching.
When the global polio eradication drive began in 1988, more than 350,000 children around the world were paralyzed by the virus each year. Last year, only 359 were.
The case count has been below 2,000 annually since 2001, and eradication efforts now cost about $1 billion a year. But to the frustration of epidemiologists, the virus is a master of the cross-border jailbreak. Thirty-four cases have been found this year, all in Pakistan or Afghanistan, the last places in which the virus is known to persist.
Many scientists now say a worldwide victory over polio is in sight.