YAOUNDE - Cameroon said it has attained the status of a “non-polio exporting country” - hitting the 6-month mark without a new case - but the country is still considered a high-risk nation with pockets of resistance to polio vaccination programs for children - especially in refugee camps.
In 2014, the World Health Organization listed Cameroon among the 10 countries with active wild poliovirus and among the top four countries posing the greatest threat of exporting the crippling virus to other countries.
Cameroon Health Minister Andre Mama Fouda said that is no longer the case after his government conducted 10 robust vaccination exercises. He said the last cases were detected at a refugee camp at Kete, in the east region, on July 7, 2014.
Mama Fouda warned Cameroon still remains a high-risk country because of mass refugee movements and poor sanitation.
Cameroon is home to more than 244,000 refugees from the Central African Republic, and the violence in northeastern Nigeria has forced more than 192,000 people to flee across the border as well.
Nigeria is one of three countries where polio is considered endemic.
Mama Fouda said a majority of those polio cases are women and children who have not been vaccinated.
Polio emergency plan
He added that Cameroon will implement its polio emergency plan, targeting children 5 years old and younger in refugee populations and in high-risk regions.
Epidemiologist Lucienne Dempouo said it is imperative to stop myths surrounding the polio virus and parents must understand that even one infected child poses a risk to all children.
"We have to maintain that status. We must not just stop and say OK, we have reached the point, goodbye. No. We still continue to work to make sure that [all] children are vaccinated since vaccination is free of charge," Dempouo said.
Polio is a highly infectious disease attacking the brain and spinal cord - causing paralysis and even death. It mostly impacts children under the age of 5.
The Global Polio Eradication Initiative in 2013 launched a strategic plan to wipe out polio by 2018. More than $4 billion has been pledged to the effort that requires that every child on Earth be vaccinated.