By Lerato Ndlovu
The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the African continent free of the wild polio-virus.
The milestone has been reached four years after Nigeria the last polio-endemic country in Africa recorded its final case of wild poliovirus.
Polio in most cases affects children under the age of five and leads to paralysis.
The Africa Regional Certification Commission (ARCC), applauds Rotary International and its partners in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) which has hailed Africa’s historic public health achievement after the continent was declared free of wild poliovirus.
Rotary International through its body (Early Birds,Interact, Rotaract and Rotary) in addition to volunteer work, has contributed $2 billion worldwide since the launch of its polio programme, PolioPlus, in 1985. That program aimed to leverage the power of Rotary’s 35,000 clubs and 1.22 million members in 200 countries and territories worldwide to make polio only the second human disease after smallpox to be pushed over the brink of extinction.
“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 fulfil our promise of a polio-free world.
“In the face of a pandemic, the world has had very little good news to celebrate in global health this year, and the challenges ahead are formidable. That is why we must recognize this great achievement and commend all of the people who played important roles in eradicating wild polio in the African region. It took tremendous effort and partnership over many years.
“The road to the African region’s wild poliovirus-free certification has been paved by the dedication of health workers, mainly women, who travelled by every form of transportation imaginable to reach children with the polio vaccine,” his statement reads.
Polio vaccination efforts throughout the African region must continue.
Rotary International General Secretary and CEO John Hewko said todays victory over the wild poliovirus in the African Region is a testament to what can happen when partners join forces to accomplish a global goal, it is something that the world should aspire during these turbulent times.
The polio eradication program in Nigeria has gone through some difficult times, but I never once doubted that this day would come, any time that we’ve experienced a setback, Rotary and our partners have been able to find solutions and develop new strategies for reaching vulnerable children. For one thing there are still the stubborn polio redoubts of Afghanistan and Pakistan, says Dr. Tunji Funsho, a former cardiologist who is the chair of Rotary International’s Polio-Plus Committee in Nigeria.
“Afghanistan and Pakistan have their own set of challenges in the fight against the wild poliovirus, but so did the African region and Nigeria.
“I cannot put a time stamp on when wild polio will be eradicated in the two remaining countries. The lessons we’ve learned in Nigeria and the African region show that eradication can only be achieved through global commitment.”
In a statement WHO said, the Africa Regional Certification Commission certified the WHO African Region as wild polio-free after four years without a case. With this historic milestone, five of the six WHO regions, representing over 90% of the world’s population are now free of the wild poliovirus, moving the world closer to achieving global polio eradication.
“Ending wild polio virus 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.
“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.”
Polio is a disease that as recently as the late 1980s was endemic in 125 countries, claiming 350,000 children per year, but has now been run to ground in just two remaining places, Pakistan and Afghanistan, where there have been a collective 102 cases so far in 2020.
The Global Polio Eradication Initiative is a public-private partnership led by national governments with six core partners – the World Health Organization (WHO), Rotary International, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), UNICEF, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.