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Africa Wins Over Polio: Health Experts Celebrate One Full Year Without New Polio Case

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The World Health Organization announced on Tuesday, Aug. 11 that Somalia has not recorded a single case of Polio in the past year. According to the UNICEF, this milestone is a testament to the significant progress that the African continent has been experiencing for the past years.

WHO said that their focus will have to be turned to Afghanistan and Pakistan, now that the crippling disease caused by the wild poliovirus has been eradicated in Somalia for the first time ever. The onset date of the last case reported was exactly Aug. 11, 2014.

The momentous achievement was attained not only because of the availability of vaccines, but because of the unprecedented efforts of the volunteers, leaders of various traditional and religious groups at the community level, as well as the unwavering support and perseverance of the national and local government departments. Aside from the works performed within the country, global organizations such as WHO, United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), Centers for Disease Control and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation were also involved. A number of public and private benefactors also had their share of contributions for this endeavor.

Nigeria is next in line to be proclaimed as polio-free. With only Afghanistan and Pakistan as the the two remaining countries to have polio cases in the world, experts are looking at making polio the second human disease ever to be eliminated next to smallpox. To make this goal possible, Nigeria needs to be free from any case of wild polio virus infection for the next two years, together with other nations in the African continent. Hard work is needed to get through the next two years without a polio case. The government and health department of all the countries that remain at risk should enhance their surveillance efforts, improve immunization programs and to step up resolutely in case an outbreak occurs.

For 2015, a total of 34 new cases of polio have already been recorded. Pakistan is accountable for 28 of those cases and the rest were diagnosed in Afghanistan. "Pakistan and Afghanistan need to finish the job as quickly as possible," says Oliver Rosenbauer, a representative from the WHO's Global Polio Eradication Initiative. These countries are the primary points of the disease and spreading it across, just like in the past, is very much unwanted.

Photo: Julien Harneis | Flickr

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