Polio’s Last Bastions

LAGOS – When I was a boy, growing up in Kano in northern Nigeria, my Koranic teacher was totally crippled from the waist down. A boy with whom I grew up could not use his legs. That was 50 years ago, and I did not know that it was polio. Such things were just a fact of life in Nigeria. At the time, I never imagined that all of this damage could have been prevented with an easily administered vaccination – that, had these people been immunized, they would have been spared paralysis.

In the six decades since the first polio vaccination was created, the disease has been eradicated in most countries around the world. Even countries facing significant obstacles – such as India, with a population of 1.2 billion people, rampant poverty, and inadequate infrastructure – have rid themselves of polio.

Nigeria is one of only three countries – along with Afghanistan and Pakistan – that remains blighted by polio. Kano is one of the few places in the world where three different strains of the disease were recorded in 2012.

But Nigeria is also one of Africa’s most developed countries. Moreover, it is the largest recipient of foreign direct investment in Africa, and thriving Nigerian businesses – such as my own – have begun to expand internationally. As a result, Nigeria will soon surpass South Africa to become Africa’s largest economy.