Relentless pursuit of an equitable world

The Optimist

Children in Nigeria
Photo credit: WHO Nigeria

Health workers in Nigeria are using lessons learned from polio to fight the Lassa fever outbreak

Here’s your summary:

Lassa fever, a disease which can cause deafness, coma and death, has been spreading rapidly throughout Nigeria since the start of 2018. Polio teams on the ground are providing critical support for the country’s response to the outbreak – an example of how the knowledge and infrastructure built to fight polio can play an important role in combating other diseases.

And here are the details:

Thanks to the combined efforts of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) – a partnership led by WHO, UNICEF, the CDC, Rotary International, the Gates Foundation and country governments – the world is closer than ever to ending polio for good. Only 22 cases of wild polio were recorded globally in 2017 – the lowest number in history, and a 99.9 percent decrease from the 350,000 cases seen when the GPEI first began in 1988.

But the benefits of polio eradication have proven to go beyond stopping just one disease. The Government of Nigeria is tapping into the knowledge and resources of the polio program to contain an outbreak of Lassa fever, a viral disease which has killed over 100 people and infected more than 400 across the country since January. Hundreds of polio workers are using their expertise to search for active Lassa cases, identify people at risk and educate communities about the disease, helping to stop the virus as soon as possible.

This isn’t the first time Nigeria’s polio workforce has strengthened the response to a disease outbreak. In 2014, the polio infrastructure and experts helped stop the spread of Ebola, helping to limit the country’s number of cases to just 20 confirmed infections, in what could have been a devastating outbreak. For reasons like this, the global health community is currently looking at the lessons learned from polio and where how these important assets can be leveraged long after polio has been eradicated.