By Dr Matshidiso Moeti
ADDIS ABEBA – World Polio Day is an opportunity to celebrate the incredible milestone achieved this year, of kicking wild poliovirus out of Africa.
This is a reminder that vaccines work, and that we can realize tremendous goals when governments, health workers, communities and partners rally together.
The people who worked tirelessly to achieve a wild-polio-free Africa, and the innovations like geographic information systems technologies used in fighting this disease, are now engaged in the response to COVID-19 and other health priorities.
And there is still work to do on polio.
Sixteen African countries have faced outbreaks this year, of a rare form of the disease that affects children who have not been protected by vaccination. It is known as circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus, or cVDPV.
Where high-quality vaccination campaigns were conducted, some outbreaks were successfully stopped in early 2020.
To reduce the risk of COVID-19 spreading in communities, vaccination campaigns were paused in March, but the leaders of the concerned countries recognized that we can’t wait for the COVID-19 emergency to end in order to finish the fight against polio.
In collaboration with partners of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, campaigns resumed in July, with safety precautions in place for vaccinators and communities. So far, 35 million children have been vaccinated across 13 African countries. This is really encouraging – it shows what we can achieve when we work together with determination and innovation.
Looking ahead in the fight against polio, an improved vaccine, known as novel oral polio vaccine type 2, or nOPV2, will soon be rolled out, and strong surveillance systems remain vitally important to detect any polio cases.
In closing, on this very special World Polio Day, I once again congratulate and thank the Governments, communities, frontline health workers and polio survivors, who drove wild polio out of Africa – I salute you.
Dr Matshidiso Moeti is WHO Regional Director for Africa