14 April 2004 Underlining the spreading risk to polio-free areas of imported infection from northern Nigeria where immunization was suspended last year, the United Nations health agency today reported the first case in 13 years of the paralyzing and sometimes fatal disease in the southern African country of Botswana.
“Children across Africa will continue to be at risk of polio from such importations until the disease is eradicated everywhere,” the Geneva-based World Health Organization (WHO) said.
The magnitude of the risk posed to polio-free areas is compounded by the growing vulnerability of populations to polio globally after the cessation of preventive polio immunization campaigns in most polio-free countries in 2002 to 2003, it added.
In the past 18 months new cases genetically linked to the poliovirus endemic to northern Nigeria have occurred in the previously polio-free west and central African countries of Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Togo.
These cases have been associated with an extensive outbreak in Nigeria after immunization was suspended in some northern states in August 2003 when religious and other leaders voiced concern over the safety of the oral vaccine. As of March 2004, all Nigerian states with the exception of Kano had resumed mass polio immunization.
In the Botswana case a seven-year-old boy from Ngami in the northwest had onset of paralysis in February. The government, WHO, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and partners are currently preparing an emergency response, including heightened disease surveillance and a nationwide immunization campaign to ensure that any transmission is stopped rapidly.
Neighbouring countries are being notified of the importation, and urged to further strengthen their surveillance for polio and routine immunization coverage.