11 August 2016 would have marked two years since the last case of polio on the African continent. Shortly before what was gearing up to be a landmark date, wild poliovirus was detected in two children from the north eastern state of Borno, Nigeria. The area has seen conflict and insecurity in the recent past and outbreaks in these situations are not unheard of. There are proven strategies in place to address these situations but it is a timely reminder that every country needs to remain vigilant against polio. It remains to be seen whether Nigeria will be placed back on the endemic list, alongside Afghanistan and Pakistan. 

An in-depth risk assessment will take place to assess the situation and will inform the response to the outbreak. This will include assessing population immunity and vulnerability. Surveillance will be strengthened. According to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative’s (GPEI) Standard Operating Procedures for outbreak response, a vaccination round will be held within 14 days, followed by two more short-interval rounds spaced two to three weeks apart to boost immunity as fast as possible in the affected area.

The cases in Nigeria are a tragedy for the children and their families as well as a setback for the polio eradication programme more generally. However, this should not detract from the incredible progress that has been made in the fight against polio. There were 350,000 cases in 125 countries as recently as 1988 and India’s National Polio Surveillance Programme continues to operate as meticulously as it has done since the last case of polio was detected in the country in 2011.

We will be calling on parliamentarians in the UK to ensure that every last child is vaccinated and that the UK continues to be at the forefront of global disease eradication. No child should contract polio, or indeed any other disease, because they happen to live in a country which does not equitable access to vaccines.