ADDIS ABABA – Africa has been declared free from wild polio by an independent regional certification body on Tuesday.
This marks the eradication of the second virus from the face of the continent since smallpox 40 years ago.
Certification Commission for Polio eradication (ARCC) “is pleased to announce that the Region has successfully met the certification criteria for wild polio eradication, with no cases of the wild poliovirus reported in the Region for four years,” said Rose Leke (Prof), ARCC Chairperson.
Polio usually affects children under five, sometimes leading to irreversible paralysis.
In 1996, African governments committed to eradicate polio during the Thirty-Second Ordinary Session of the Organization of African Unity in Yaoundé, Cameroon.
At the time, polio was paralyzing an estimated 75,000 children, annually, on the African continent. Death can occur when breathing muscles are affected.
“Today is a historic day for Africa,” said ARCC, after announcing its decision.
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.
The last case of wild poliovirus in the region was detected in 2016 in Nigeria. Since 1996, polio eradication efforts have prevented up to 1.8 million children from crippling life-long paralysis and saved approximately 180 000 lives.
“This is a momentous milestone for Africa. Now future generations of African children can live free of wild polio,” said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.
Dr. Moeti said the historic achievement was only possible thanks to the commitment of governments but gave “special tribute to the frontline health workers and vaccinators, some of whom lost their lives, for this noble cause”.
“However, we must stay vigilant and keep up vaccination rates to avert a resurgence of the wild poliovirus and address the continued threat of vaccine-derived polio,” said Dr. Moeti.
The disease is now only found in Afghanistan and Pakistan. There is no cure but the polio vaccine protects children for life.
Featured Image: In this April 24, 2013 file photo, a baby receives a polio vaccine at the Medina Maternal Child Health center in Mogadishu, Somalia. (Photo AP)