By David Smith, Africa correspondent
Aug. 11, 2015 | The Guardian
Africa has achieved a year without any new cases of wild polio for the first time, but experts warn that violent insurgencies could yet prove their “achilles heel” in finally eradicating the disease.
The poliomyelitis virus attacks the nervous system and can cause irreversible paralysis within hours of infection. No cases have been identified in Africa since 11 August last year in the Hobyo district of Mudug province in Somalia, meaning that the continent is two years away from being certified polio-free.
But both Somalia and Nigeria, which also saw its last polio case in 2014, are battling Islamist militant groups – al-Shabaab and Boko Haram respectively – raising fears that vaccines will not reach children displaced by conflict.
“I just hope Boko Haram will not be the achilles heel of our work,” said Oyewale Tomori, professor of virology at the Nigerian Academy of Science, who has dedicated four decades of his life to polio research. “Unless we get rid of the insurgency, we cannot be sure we will eradicate polio.”
In Nigeria there is a target cohort of 5 million to 6 million children each year, he added, and vaccines must reach 90%-95% of them to prevent polio recurring. “Getting vaccines to displaced people will be crucial,” said Tomori.