The Africa Regional Certification Commission has declared Africa free of Wild Polio.
The feat is attributed to the strong cooperation between national governments and global donors in effort to achieve a polio-free world. 47 African countries who are part of the World Health Organization were certified 'free of wild poliovirus.'
What about polio?
Polio affects children under the age of five, often resulting in irreversible paralysis. Remote areas around Pakistan and Afghanistan are where it still remains.
According to medics, there is no cure for polio but there is a vaccine. Polio spreads easily from person to person through water that is contaminated. Paralysis sets in once it attacks the nervous system. One out of 200 infections reaches the paralysis stage, 5-10% of which result in death from immobilization of the breathing muscles.
Thus far, two of the three polio strains have been eliminated globally. Africa had a few pockets of the last strand - which has also been eradicated. Over 95% of Africa’s population has been immunized from polio. This was one milestone set by the Africa Regional Certification Commission before claiming victory over wild polio.
Polio in Africa
Nigeria was the last country to rid itself of wild polio, having accounted for half of all global cases barely 10 years ago, prompting a relentless eradication campaign. An ambitious vaccination and surveillance public health drive took place to reach the most remote areas of the country, even resulting in the deaths of health workers in areas under the control of Islamist militias.
Kick Polio Out of Africa campaign
‘Kick Polio Out of Africa Campaign’ was launched in 1996 by Nelson Mandela. The ambitious programme mobilized millions of health workers who went from village to village hand-delivering the polio vaccine. Rotary International was one of the main backers of the initiative since the 1980s.
Back then Wild Polio paralyzed over 75,000 children annually. Since the 1996 campaign began, billions of oral polio vaccines have been delivered averting over a million cases. No new case has been reported since August 2016, prompting the Independent Africa Regional Certification Commission to call in the victory.
What is vaccine-derived polio?
At the moment, only the vaccine-derived polio strain remains in the continent. 177 cases were reported this year alone. This form of the virus mutates from the oral polio vaccine and can easily spread to those communities that are under-immunized. The WHO has identified a few such cases in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria, Central African Republic, and Angola.
Challenges faced in Nigeria’s anti-polio drive
The last areas where polio might exist are in areas with communities that are almost impossible to access let alone deliver immunization. It is no surprise that the last reported case of polio was in Nigeria’s Northeast state of Boro, where the Boko Haram insurgency was centered. Outside Nigeria, the other place where such a case was reported was in Puntland 2014.
Conflict and war have made far-flung areas such as Borno State impractical to reach. Over two million people have been displaced from their homes. Health workers have had to use creative ways to deliver vaccines. Another setback to the immunization drive was misinformation and rumors on the virus.
In 2002, Kano and several other northern states halted the immunization drive after Muslim religious leaders claimed that the virus had an anti-fertility agent added by the American government to make Muslim women infertile. Independent lab tests carried out in Nigeria dismissed those allegations. 2013 was a very low moment for morale after 9 female polio health workers were gunned down in shootings across Kano, which were linked to the Boko Haram militia.
Ph: davide bonaldo / Shutterstock.com