Nigeria has been removed from the list of polio endemic countries in what is being regarded as a “milestone” on the quest to eradicate the disease.
The announcement by the World Health Organization (WHO), was made at a meeting of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) in New York.
It follows Nigeria going more than a year without a case of wild – naturally occurring – polio.
Three years without cases are required before it can be declared polio free.
The decision means there are just two endemic countries – Pakistan and Afghanistan – where transmission of the paralysing virus has never been interrupted.
Jean Gough, Unicef country representative in Nigeria, told me: “This is an important milestone, but it is too early to celebrate. We need to continue the efforts at every level if polio is to be eradicated.”
Polio is spread by poor sanitation and contaminated water and usually affects children.
The virus attacks the nervous system and can cause irreversible paralysis – usually of the legs – within hours.
GPEI was established in 1988 when tens of thousands of children in more than 125 countries were paralyzed by polio each year.
Partner organisations include the WHO, Rotary International and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.