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02/08/2013

Nigerian polio worker attacks: the latest setback in a long and frustrating struggle

Polio

Nigeria remains one of the three countries in the world where polio remains endemic. In this 1999 photo, a Nigerian man stricken by polio crawls through a central market in Lagos, Nigeria. (AP/David Guttenfelder)

This is what the impact of polio looks like. The disease is highly infectious, can cause paralysis, mainly impacts children under five and has no cure. It is also completely preventable by vaccine.

But there are those trying to prevent the vaccines from reaching children. On Friday, nine women working for a polio vaccination drive in northern Nigeria were killed, reportedly by an extremist Islamist sect called Boko Haram (which recently declared a ceasefire, which many suspected to be little more than lip service).

The world is excruciatingly close to eradicating polio but it remains endemic in three countries: Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria, where the man in the above picture was photographed in 1999 and the recent killings took place. In Pakistan, polio workers have also been recently attacked.

But polio anywhere could mean polio everywhere. In Egypt, which has been polio-free since 2004, a strain of polio virus was recently detected in Cairo sewage -- it is believed to have been imported from Pakistan. Niger, which was taken off the endemic list in 2006, also continues to see polio importations from Nigeria, with which it shares a border. A case was reported in Niger in 2012, its first since December 2011 -- the strain was related to one originating in Nigeria.

Jennifer Yang is the Toronto Star’s global health reporter. She previously worked as a general assignment reporter and won a NNA in 2011 for her explanatory piece on the Chilean mining disaster. Follow her on Twitter: @jyangstar



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