The wild poliovirus which killed hundreds of thousands of children every year in Africa has been declared to be eradicated from the African region by the World Health Organization. With no cases reported for 4 years the United Nation’s WHO has declared Africa as poliovirus free and this is one of the greatest achievements.
Director-General of the WHO Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during a live stream event that today we come together to rejoice over a historic public health success that is the certification of wild poliovirus eradication in the region of Africa. Tedros who is also chair of the polio oversight board added that the end of polio in Africa is a great day and Africa’s success is the success of the world as no one could have done this alone.
Polio was once a common virus. It can affect the nerves of children causing muscle weakness or paralysis. The only way to prevent the infection is through vaccination as there is no treatment or cure. According to Tedros, almost 9 billion vaccines have been delivered to Africa as nonprofits and governments have been working since 1996 to eradicate the virus from the continent.
To deliver the polio vaccines to each and every child in Africa and wiping out the wild poliovirus is not a simple task, and the human skills, resources, and experience gained by the people in this process will be vital in tackling any diseases in the future which may reach the marginalized and poor communities who need lifesaving services.
This achievement of eradicating the wild poliovirus from Africa was made possible by a combination of factors including leadership from all levels of government, millions of health workers reaching and helping children across Africa, billions raised through a historic partnership of public and private entities, and a culture of continual improvement.
In 2012 almost half of the wild poliovirus cases recorded were in Nigeria, which was the last country in Africa to be able to rid itself of the virus. Using new innovations and hard work and making sure no child is missed from the vaccination, the African Continent including Nigeria got rid of the virus. The health workers go from village to village and every door to vaccinate children multiple times and also gave health support and advice to the communities.
According to WHO, the last case of wild poliovirus in Africa was reported in Nigeria in 2016. Since 1996 polio eradication efforts have saved nearly 180,000 lives and prevented around 1.8 million children from lifelong paralysis.
The last region to get rid of the virus was Southeast Asia and it has already been eradicated in Europe, the Americas, and most of Australasia. This leaves Afghanistan and Pakistan as the only countries that still have the virus because vaccination efforts against the disease are made difficult by insecurity and attacks on polio vaccination teams, however, the two countries have now resumed vaccination campaigns which were stopped due to the pandemic.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Dr. Robert Redfield believes that there is still work to be done. He said that this moment is for Africa to celebrate and to savor and he assured that CDC stands with the affected countries until wild poliovirus is completely eradicated. He further said that Africa has demonstrated how much can be achieved when resources, determination, and partnership come together no matter the circumstances.