On 25th August, the Africa Regional Certification Commission (ARCC) declared Africa free of the last remaining strain of wild poliovirus. The announcement was made after Nigeria, the last of the African country to report a case of wild polio, completed four years without reporting a single new case.
All 47 countries in the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Africa region have now managed to eradicate the endemic wild poliovirus. The announcement in Africa comes after decades of vaccination programs, which were often a target of Islamist militant groups in the region. In 2016, the state of Borno in Nigeria was the center of the Boko Haram conflict which displaced millions of people and slowed down vaccination efforts in remote communities. Frontline workers worked in a coalition with government-approved military members to navigate their way around the conflict areas and deliver vaccines to children in the region.
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Polio, or poliomyelitis, is a highly infectious disease caused by any of the three strains of the poliovirus. It most commonly affects children under 5 years of age and spreads via fecal-oral routes. There is currently no cure for polio therefore, widespread vaccination programs are conducted to prevent the disease.
Of the three serotypes of wild poliovirus, type 2 and type 3 have been eradicated worldwide. Only wild poliovirus type 1 remains in circulation, in just two countries; Afghanistan and Pakistan.
According to WHO, since the launch of the ‘Kick Polio Out of Africa’ campaign in 1996 by Nelson Mandela, polio vaccination drives have managed to avert 1.8 million wild polio cases.
While the eradication of wild polio is a great victory for Africa, it is important to note that vaccine-derived poliovirus continues to affect 16 countries in the region. A total of 177 cases of vaccine-derived polio have been reported in Africa this year.
According to Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa continued vigilance and high vaccination rates are required to avoid the resurgence of wild poliovirus cases and contain the threat of vaccine-derived polio.
As wild poliovirus continues to circulate in Afghanistan and Pakistan, its resurgence in Africa is a high possibility and should therefore be monitored until there is global eradication of the disease.
Global polio eradication initiative applauds WHO African region for wild polio-free certification. (n.d.). Retrieved September 01, 2020, from https://www.who.int/news-room/detail/25-08-2020-global-polio-eradication-initiative-applauds-who-african-region-for-wild-polio-free-certification