By Sharon Atieno
Africa has been certified wild poliovirus free. This is after the last four countries of the region where the virus had been previously detected were declared free of the virus following four years of not reporting any cases.
The certification took place in Yaounde, Cameroon where the African Regional Certification Commission officially presented the report to the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director, during the Seventieth Session of the WHO African Regional Committee.
Welcoming the milestone, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Africa regional director noted that this was the second virus to be eradicated from the region after small pox virus eradication 40 years ago.
She said that this achievement was due to collaboration between various stake holders, noting that “collective action of communities, governments and partners can bring about tremendous change.”
“None of us could have done this alone,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director General, “the landmark achievement has only been possible because of the power of partnership, the power of solidarity.”
However, Dr. Moeti said: “The battle is not over as our region still faces the threat of circulating vaccine derived poliovirus type 2 due to low immunization coverage and poor sanitation in many of our communities.”
She noted that 16 African countries were responding to outbreaks of the vaccine derived poliovirus type 2 where some immunization campaigns were postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As long as polio persists anywhere it is a threat everywhere. We still have a lot of work to do to finish the job of consigning polio to the history books,” remarked Dr. Ghebreyesus, noting that Afghanistan and Pakistan still have wild poliovirus.
He added that there was continuous need to mobilize funds to strengthen health systems especially for essential immunizations, training of health workers, boosting outreach services and listening to community concerns to con counter misinformation.
While calling on countries to take necessary steps to prevent resurgence of wild poliovirus, President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria said: “ This will require maintaining the highest quality of surveillance and sustaining population immunity through increasing routine immunization coverage and supplementing immunization activities.”
Prior to the resolution of the Forty-First session of the World Health Assembly (WHA) in 1988 to eradicate polio globally by the year 2000, polio a highly infectious disease was a major cause of paralysis among children in the African region with an estimated 75,000 children affected annually.
Since the renewed campaign to kick polio out of Africa in 1996, almost 9 billion polio vaccines have been delivered in Africa. 1.8 million cases of paralysis have been averted and up to 180, 000 lives have been saved.