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Nigeria Confirms Third Case of Polio After Nearly Eradicating Disease

A year after Nigeria was declared “polio-free,” the disease has made a sudden reappearance in the part of the country terrorized by Boko Haram.

The World Health Organization announced Monday that a paralyzed toddler living in a refugee camp in Nigeria’s Borno state was confirmed to have polio.

He is the third toddler to test positive for the disease in recent weeks in Borno, as Nigerian military forces have liberated parts of the state from the control of the Islamic terror group and healthcare workers once again have access to populations there, according to the Associated Press.

In early August, as Nigeria was set to announce it had been free of polio for two years, two new cases were discovered. With the announcement of the third case, officials say the disease is likely to spread in parts of Borno.

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In response to the outbreak, health officials from the WHO, the Centers for Disease Control, and Rotary International have launched an emergency vaccination campaign, with healthcare workers using helicopters and all-terrain vehicles to reach children in areas still controlled by Boko Haram and considered inaccessible to the government, according to the Associated Press. The campaign is attempting to vaccinate some 25 million children across the country.

“The overriding priority now is to rapidly immunize all children around the affected area and ensure that no other children succumb to this terrible disease,” Dr. Matshidiso Moeti of the WHO said in a statement last month, after the second case was identified.

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Rotary field coordinator Aminu Muhammad told the AP that those delivering the vaccine had been accompanied by armored vehicles and soldiers in dangerous areas.

"We've even been able to reach a couple of areas that we had been told by the military were inaccessible, after community leaders informed us we could get through," he said, though he admitted that there are still communities that they have been unable to reach.

More than 1 million children remain displaced in hard-to-reach areas for officials, according to UNICEF.

A report from the U.S.-based policy analyst group Stratfor released last month said that Boko Haram is “largely responsible” for hampering the vaccination efforts in Nigeria. In 2013, Boko Haram militants killed nine women vaccinating children against the disease, according to the AP.

Nigeria was once the center of the polio virus, according to the AP, but years of efforts to vaccinate against the disease helped lead the WHO to declare it polio-free in September, 2015. After that polio was thought to exist only in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The WHO said more cases are expected to be diagnosed as healthcare workers reach recently liberated populations, according to the AP.

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