ONLY two names now remain on the list: Afghanistan and Pakistan. Nigeria is the latest country to exit the ignominious company of countries where polio is considered endemic.
No new polio cases have been reported there for the last one year, and while it has some time to go before officially being declared polio-free, it should be really proud given the odds it once faced.
A decade or so ago, Muslim clerics in Nigeria declared war on the anti-polio campaigners. These clerics, quite like their counterparts in Pakistan, had decried the vaccination drive as an attempt to sterilise young Muslim girls.
In more recent times, the hardcore militant group Boko Haram went after polio workers in Nigeria earlier this year, killing nine of them. But the anti-polio battle had enough momentum to bring the global front against the crippling disease victory after years of committed, relentless effort.
Nigeria and the world must celebrate the moment. According to figures available in media reports, only 27 years ago – in 1988 – there were 128 countries staked by endemic polio.
This is what makes the indictment for the two countries that are still not clear of polio easier and stronger.
There has been a drop in the number of cases of late, but with 28 reported cases in Pakistan this year as against five in Afghanistan, Pakistan has to be the most serious challenge for the anti-polio coalition.
Nigeria’s example tells us that it has to be cohesive, efficient process involving everyone from the government health machinery to the NGOs to political parties and social motivators, including the clerics.
There is a general realisation here that the network is essential to the job and the application of the successful Nigerian formula in Pakistan could well be one of the major reasons behind the fall in polio cases in the country in 2015 over previous years. The need is to press on with single-minded urgency towards achieving a polio-free world.
Published in Dawn, July 27th, 2015