Only a few months ago, there was great optimism that polio was on the verge of eradication. The world saw only 223 cases in 2012, the lowest level in history, and the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, an umbrella group, unveiled a major strategy to wipe out the disease over the next five years.
Those hopes now seem clouded by a poliovirus outbreak in Somalia and Kenya. This year, there have been 81 cases in these two countries, more than the 59 cases in the three countries where polio remains endemic: Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria. The first case in this outbreak, on April 30, was a 4-month-old girl who developed symptoms of acute paralysis in Dadaab, Kenya the site of a major refugee camp, with 500,000 people, near the Somali border; within days, a case was confirmed in neighboring Somalia, according to the World Health Organization.
Polio is a highly contagious disease that affects the nervous system and can lead to paralysis, largely among children age 5 and younger. It spreads rapidly.