Polio is a highly infectious viral disease which mainly affects young children and can result in permanent paralysis. There is no cure and it can be only prevented through immunisationPolio is a highly infectious viral disease which mainly affects young children and can result in permanent paralysis. There is no cure and it can be only prevented through immunisation (AFP Photo/Pius Utomi Ekpei)
Lagos (AFP) - Nigeria on Friday marked one year since its last case of polio, raising hopes it will soon be taken off the list of endemic countries as the first step to being declared free of the disease.
The last case was in the Sumaila district of Kano state, in the country's north -- one of only six in 2014 and well down on the 338 recorded in 2009, according to World Health Organization data.
Nigeria will be removed from the WHO list of polio-endemic countries in four to six weeks if samples sent for checking are found clear and surveillance data meets international standards.
But health professionals and campaigners said the fight is not over and warned about complacency, with another two years to go before polio-free status is achieved.
"Interruption is a major milestone. But our aim is not just interruption but eradication," the executive director of the National Primary Healthcare Development Agency, Ado Muhammad, told AFP.
"We still have two years in which we need to keep polio out," added Oyewale Tomori, president of the Nigerian Academy of Science, who has worked on polio eradication for the past 45 years.
Muhammad, Tomori and global charities Rotary International and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation all called for both Nigeria and the international community to keep up the momentum.
The deputy director of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Michael Galway, said Nigeria had made "incredible progress but the job isn't finished".
"Continued leadership and domestic financing, high quality immunisation campaigns and disease surveillance will be key" to achieving polio-free status, he added in an emailed statement.
Nigeria and the two other countries on the polio-endemic list, Pakistan and Afghanistan, have all faced challenges in implementing immunisation programmes.
Immunisation teams have been attacked and even killed while rumours were spread about the safety of the vaccine.
But those involved in the programme say sustained political commitment and funding, as well as support from traditional rulers and religious leaders have helped turn around Nigeria's fortunes.
Emergency operations centres improved coordination between partners while the establishment of health camps increased access to those at risk from polio and other childhood diseases.
Systems put in place to tackle polio outbreaks were adapted last year to successfully eliminate the spread of Ebola in Nigeria.
Tunji Funsho, who heads Rotary International's polio programme in Nigeria, said Nigeria's example could provide a spur for Afghanistan and Pakistan in tackling the disease.
But Tomori said extra attention needed to be paid to the northeast, which has been hit for the last six years by violence from Boko Haram Islamists.
Many primary healthcare facilities have been destroyed and hundreds of thousands of people displaced, making immunisation of children more difficult.
"We can only do as much as they allow us to do," he said.