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Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Africa is Now Free of Wild Polio

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Some good news in healthcare!

While the world continues to battle the grappling effects of Covid-19, the continent of Africa has won a major victory against the poliovirus, specifically the wild poliovirus. The Africa Regional Certification Commission (ARCC), an independent 16-person board organization appointed by the World Health Organization (WHO) with the task of eradicating the wild poliovirus in the region, has declared the continent wild poliovirus free after successful eradication by its 47 countries.

The declaration leaves just two countries where the virus remains endemic–Afghanistan and Pakistan. 

The Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) congratulates the national governments of the 47 countries in the WHO African Region for this milestone success which took years of vaccination and surveillance to complete. 

In an article posted on WHO’s website, WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says, “Ending wild poliovirus in Africa is one of the greatest public health achievements of our time and provides powerful inspiration for all of us to finish the job of eradicating polio globally. I thank and congratulate the governments, health workers, community volunteers, traditional and religious leaders and parents across the region who have worked together to kick wild polio out of Africa.”

In order for a region to be certified free of wild polio, three years should pass without the virus being detected in any of its countries. In the case of Africa, it’s last wild polio incident was recorded in northeast Nigeria four years ago. 

“During a challenging year for global health, the certification of the African region as wild poliovirus-free is a sign of hope and progress that shows what can be accomplished through collaboration and perseverance,” said Rotary International President Holger Knaack. “Since 1996, when Nelson Mandela joined with Rotary, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, and governments of the African region we’ve achieved something remarkable. Today’s milestone tells us that polio eradication is possible, as long as the world remains committed to finishing the job. Let us work together to harness our collective energies to overcome the remaining challenges and fulfill our promise of a polio-free world.”

According to reports, one of the things that led to the success of the program includes winning the trust of communities. To do this, traditional and religious leaders, volunteers, health workers, and most especially polio survivors helped in persuading people to accept the campaign. 

In a BBC article, Misbahu Lawan Didi, president of the Nigerian Polio Survivors Association says, “Many rejected the polio vaccine, but they see how much we struggle to reach them, sometimes crawling large distances, to speak to them. We ask them: ‘Don’t you think it is important for you to protect your child not to be like us?'”

Despite the pronouncement, the continent’s battle against polio perseveres as many of its communities continue to experience outbreaks by various mutations of the virus. These mutations come from oral vaccination (containing a weakened form of the poliovirus) that are given to under-immunized communities. More than 20 countries worldwide have reported cases of vaccine-derived polio since August last year.

Currently, there is no cure for poliovirus which is known to cause irreversible paralysis and may even be fatal if muscles that help with breathing are affected. It is also important to note that polio has a chance of returning to a country that has eradicated it through importation. This has happened to Angola before, a country that was declared polio-free in 2001. Four years after, in 2005, a number of cases surfaced again and experts suspect that the source came from outside the country. This is the reason why WHO continues to campaign for vigilance against the virus until global eradication is achieved.

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