Last week, just as Nigeria was set to mark a second year without a reported case of polio, the World Health Organization confirmed the discovery of two cases in the country’s northeast. In response, the Nigerian government announced that $27.9 million has been earmarked for “polio vaccines and other related activities.” As a part of the eradication drive, the government says it will immunize 56 million children by November.
The quick response from the government should be reassuring to the WHO and its partner organizations working on the global campaign to eradicate polio. Following the announcement of the two new cases last week, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, said “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 return of polio is likely due to the general instability in Nigeria’s northeast, as Quartz has previously pointed out. With terrorist sect Boko Haram controlling swathes of the area at different times over the past two years, gaps have emerged in polio surveillance and immunization. As a result, hundreds of thousands of children are likely to have missed vaccine doses.
Isaac Adewole, Nigeria’s health minister, has corroborated this theory. “The issue here has to do with access to this population,” he said at a press briefing this week. “Reports from the detailed investigation carried out by our team revealed that both cases came from security compromised areas of Borno State, which have limited access to any form of health services including immunization.”