Two children were paralyzed by the first cases of wild poliovirus in over two years in Borno, Nigeria, prompting a call for better immunization practices, according to the UN News Centre.
The United Nations health agency has emphasized the need to prioritize immunization in children living in remote areas such as the Lake Chad region, which includes several countries plagued by war.
Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, World Health Organization Regional Director for Africa, said in a news release that the incidents of polio have “deeply saddened” the agency. She added, “The overriding priority now is to rapidly immunize all children around the affected area and ensure that no other children succumb to this terrible disease.”
The news release said that the Nigerian government is working with WHO and other groups in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative to respond quickly and prevent the spread of polio.
Steps to this end include large-scale immunization campaigns and a stronger surveillance system that will enable health officials to catch the virus early on. Neighboring countries are likewise stepping up in similar initiatives.
Dr. Michell Zaffran, director of polio eradication at WHO in Geneva, Switzerland, said,
We are confident that with a swift response and strong collaboration with the Nigerian Government, we can soon rid the country of polio once and for all.
Nigeria has accounted for over half of polio cases worldwide, as recently as 2012. Since then, the West African country has taken significant measures to stop the disease from spreading. These two recent cases are the first to be reported in two years.
WHO said that the two new polio cases have stressed that in order to reach children in inaccessible areas, a vaccinating team able to move in and out of violence-stricken areas caused by the Boko Haram insurgency, is necessary.
In addition, international agencies are expected to partner with local groups, religious institutions, and community-based organizations to obtain access for teams carrying out vaccination programs.
The news release said that the world is close to reaching polio eradication. There have only been 21 wild polio cases reported in 2016 so far, a drop from 34 cases reported last year. Only two other countries have documented polio incidents: Pakistan and Afghanistan. Four out of six WHO regions have been confirmed polio-free, and there is only one of three wild polio types still spreading in the world.