Health Care

Africa declared free of wild poliovirus

Africa declared free of wild poliovirus”

"The ARCC's decision comes after an exhaustive, decades-long process of documentation and analysis of polio surveillance, immunization and laboratory capacity of the region's 47 member states, which included conducting field verification visits to each country".

After four years without a single case of wild polio, the African region has been certified free of wild poliovirus.

The last case of wild poliovirus in the region was detected in 2016 in Nigeria.

The WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, described Africa's attainment of the wild poliovirus free status as a momentous milestone.

Polio is a contagious viral illness that in its most severe form causes nerve injury leading to irreversible paralysis and sometimes death.

He said Nigeria used data systems, community engagement and innovative technology to monitor and predict the occurrence of polio outbreaks, adding that these same skills and tools are being used to fight COVID-19 and the multi-country outbreaks of Circulating Vaccine Derived Polio Viruses. At a point about $1 billion a year was being spent by partners of a worldwide eradication initiative, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the World Health Organization and Rotary International to stamp out the disease.

He recounted that the journey to eradicate the virus dates back to 1996, when late Nelson Mandela inaugurated the Kick Polio out of Africa campaign.

After Africa, Afghanistan and Pakistan will be the only countries to have polio cases now.

It can infect people where there is only partial vaccination - and results in the same symptoms as the wild form.

That year, the country recorded its last case of polio, and this year, Nigeria's World Health Organization certification is the reward for its efforts. As Moeti noted, some of those health workers lost their lives "for this noble cause".

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"This is one of the greatest achievements in public health history", WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus co-wrote in an opinion piece published in Al Jazeera.

The announcement was made at a virtual session Tuesday of the 70th WHO Regional Committee for Africa. Vaccination campaigns in both countries have now resumed after being paused during coronavirus lockdowns. To say I'm happy is an understatement!

A large part of the eradication effort has been through the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), which was created in 1988 and is led by national governments and five partners - Rotary International, WHO, UNICEF, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The local doctors have expressed joy of relief for this achievement.

Nigeria, a country with 200 million inhabitants, was still among the trouble-spots in the early 2000s.

In its northern Muslim-majority areas, authorities were forced to stop vaccination campaigns in 2003 and 2004 when Islamist extremists claimed it was a vast conspiracy to sterilise young Muslims.

It took a lot of work with traditional and religious leaders to convince people to have their children vaccinated.

"At the time, we couldn't reach two-thirds of the children of Borno state - 400,000 children couldn't access the vaccine", said Dr Funsho.

"And just when we thought we had dispersed the rumours, the insecurity issue came up", he said, referring to an armed campaign launched by the Boko Haram group in 2009.

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