After almost three decades of polio eradication campaigns in the WHO African region, the African Regional Certification Commission has declared the continent wild polio-free. This historic milestone comes after almost four years without any case being reported in Africa.
Africa declared wild poliovirus free
The poliovirus has been the second to be eradicated in Africa since eradicating smallpox more than four decades ago. Polio, which affects the nervous system leading to paralysis, once affected more than 75,000 children annually in Africa, but now that is not the case. This is a major boost in global eradication of the virus, with five out of six WHO regions currently wild poliovirus free. The only nations where there are still transmissions of the virus are in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The eradication of poliomyelitis is a huge milestone, which is not a common occurrence. According to WHO, the virus affects children below five years, and on out of 200 infections can result in irreversible paralysis, and 10% of the paralyzed kids end up dying. Efforts to eradicate polio in Africa have had challenges over the past three decades stemming from political and technical issues.
Concerted efforts led to the eradication of polio in Africa
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, stated that eradicating polio in Africa was a huge public health achievement that offers more inspiration to eradicate polio globally completely. Ghebreyesus stated that the achievement was through concerted effort form community volunteers, workers, religious leaders, and governments. Innovation and strong leadership were vital in the eradication of the virus.
Over 95% of the African population has been immunized, which was among the Africa Regional Certification Commission conditions before declaring the region wild polio-free. There are three wild polio strains, with two having been declared eradicated globally, and the last remaining strain in Africa has now been eradicated. Currently, it is the vaccine-derived poliovirus remaining in Africa, with around 177 cases reported this year. It is a rare poliovirus mutating from the oral polio vaccine that spreads in under-immunized populations.