The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday that Nigeria, which has long battled with polio, is no longer on the list of countries that spread the disease, a feat that brings the world closer to fully eliminating the disease.
Since July last year, the African country has not reported new incidence of polio, an accomplishment that is attributed in part to intensified immunization drives.
Over 200,000 volunteers braved remote areas despite potential threats posed by the militant group Boko Haram to vaccinate 45 million children below 5 years old, who are particularly vulnerable of the disease.
Nigeria has to contend with security issues to immunize children in remote areas. The country also had to deal with rumors that the vaccine causes infertility prompting parents particularly in the Muslim-majority north to refuse to have their children immunized.
Pakistan and Afghanistan, the two remaining countries in the list of polio-endemic nations, are also hounded by immunization challenges associated with militant groups that routinely attack health workers and even ban immunization in some areas.
Nigeria also adopted innovative approaches which include heightened community involvement and the establishment of Emergency Operations Centers.
The efforts appeared to have paid off as the country's last case of polio was recorded on July 24, 2014, a considerable feat given that only three years ago, polio incidence in Nigeria accounted for over half of the cases globally.
"The interruption of wild poliovirus transmission in Nigeria would have been impossible without the support and commitment of donors and development partners," WHO said in a statement. "Their continued support, along with continued domestic funding from Nigeria, will be essential to keep Nigeria and the entire region polio-free."
The UN agency said that Nigeria is no longer a polio-endemic country having made remarkable progress against the disease. Nonetheless, it said that continued vigilance is important to ensure that the disease does not return.
"We Nigerians are proud today," said Ado Muhammad, executive director of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency in Nigeria. "With local innovation and national persistence, we have beaten polio. We know our vigilance and efforts must continue in order to keep Nigeria polio-free."
WHO said that surveillance activities and immunization should continue to ensure rapid detection once the poliovirus emerges again.
If Nigeria continues to have no new case of polio for two more years, the country will be officially declared free of the disease.