‘Historic achievement’: Africa officially eradicates wild poliovirus

'Historic achievement': Africa officially eradicates wild poliovirus
World Health Organization
A person receiving polio vaccine. Africa has officially eradicated wild poliovirus

Africa has officially eradicated wild poliovirus.

The independent Africa Regional Certification Commission (ARCC) for Polio Eradication officially declared the World Health Organization’s (WHO) African Region free of the deadly disease.

“Today is a historic day for Africa. The African Regional Certification Commission for Polio eradication 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,” Rose Gana Fomban Leke, ARCC Chairperson, said in a press release.

“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,” said WHO director-general Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said in a separate media release.

Polio is a highly contagious viral disease transmitted from person to person, mainly through contact with feces of an infected individual, according to WHO. People can also become infected by coming in contact with contaminated water or food.

Although there is no cure for polio, which can cause paralysis and death, the disease can be prevented through vaccination.

Efforts to eradicate wild poliovirus in Africa had been ongoing for decades, with massive vaccination campaigns and increased surveillance and laboratory capacity of the region’s 47 member states.

During the early and mid-1990s, according to ARCC, polio was paralyzing an estimated 75,000 children each on the African continent. Since 1996 eradication efforts prevented as many as 1.8 million children from “crippling life-long paralysis” and saved approximately 180,000 lives.

Africa’s last known wild poliovirus case was detected in 2016 in Nigeria.

“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. “This historic achievement was only possible thanks to the leadership and commitment of governments, communities, global polio eradication partners and philanthropists.”

While wild poliovirus may no longer be circulating in Africa, 16 countries in the region are currently experiencing vaccine-derived polioviruses (cVDPV2) – rare strains that have genetically mutated from the strain that is inside the actual polio vaccine, according to WHO.

“Africa has demonstrated that despite weak health systems, significant logistical and operational challenges across the continent, African countries have collaborated very effectively in eradicating wild poliovirus,” Dr. Pascal Mkanda, coordinator of WHO Polio Eradication Programme in the African Region, said in a press release. “With the innovations and expertise that the polio program has established, I am confident that we can sustain the gains, post-certification, and eliminate cVDPV2.”

ACCR is a 16-member certification commission for polio eradication organized by the World Health Organization in 1998. ACCR’s mandate is to oversee the certification process and is the only body with the ability to officially declare the African Region free of wild poliovirus.

The World Health Organization has also created a website – www.africakicksoutwildpolio.com – that details the history of eradication efforts of polio in Africa.


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