Africa is now free from wild polio, after four years without a single case in the continent.
The independent body, the Africa Regional Certification Commission made the declaration on Tuesday, August 25.
In reaction to the virus’ eradication in Africa, the heads of the World Health Organisation and Rotary International recently co-wrote an opinion piece, published by Al Jazeera.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and Holger Knaack said “this is one of the greatest achievements in public health history.”
“Delivering polio vaccines to every child in the African region and wiping out the wild virus is no small feat, and the human resources, skills and experience gained in the process leave behind a legacy in how to tackle diseases and reach the poorest and most marginalised communities with lifesaving services,” they wrote.
How was wild polio defeated in Africa?
The wild Poliovirus mostly affects children below five years, often leading to severe paralysis. Over twenty years ago, the disease paralysed more than 75,000 children across Africa.
However, robust vaccination greatly influenced the eradication of wild polio in Africa. In 1996, former South African President, Nelson Mandela launched the “Kick Polio Out of Africa” programme. The campaign saw millions of health workers go deep into villages to deliver vaccines to children.
In this vein, a coalition of groups backed the campaign to vaccinate African children against the wild virus. Rotary International also joined other groups in this fight. The organisation played a leading role in vaccination against polio from the 1980s.
Since 1996, billions of oral polio vaccines have been provided, thereby avoiding an estimated 1.8 million cases of wild poliovirus.
Nigeria was the last country on the continent to be free from wild polio in 2016.
Vaccine-derived polio is still a threat
As Africa heaves a sigh of relief from wild polio, the continent, however, is not free from vaccine-derived polio.
This is a rare form of the virus that stems from the oral polio vaccine. It mostly spreads across under-immunised communities. Meanwhile, Africa currently has about 177 of such cases.
Over the years, Africa has faced many health challenges. For this reason, the continent celebrates the eradiction of wild, polio which badly affected so many Africans.
Wild polio is the second virus to be eradicated in Africa after small pox, according to the World Health Organisation.
Africa remains threatened health-wise
Even as the continent rejoices over wild polio’s defeat, it still faces other severe threats.
The Coronavirus, for example, cotinues to claim thousands of African lives. Economies have also been hard hit by the health crisis, thereby distorting economic functioning of African countries.
The continent is finding it difficult to effectively contain the virus, but each country keeps putting in efforts to survive.