Africa declared free from wild polio

Polio has caused irreversible paralysis among children in Africa for decades, but now only vaccine-derived polio remains on the continent

The independent Africa Regional Certification Commission (ARCC) for Polio Eradication has officially declared that the World Health Organization (WHO) Africa region is free from wild poliovirus. This marks the eradication of the second virus from the face of the continent since smallpox 40 years ago.

“Today is a historic day for Africa. The African Regional Certification Commission for Polio Eradication (ARCC) 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,” said Professor Rose Gana Fomban Leke, ARCC chairperson.  

The ARCC’s decision comes after an exhaustive, decades-long process of documentation and analysis of polio surveillance, immunisation and laboratory capacity of the region’s 47 member states, which included conducting field verification visits to each country.

Threats remain

Africa’s new status means that Pakistan and neighbouring Afghanistan are now the only countries where the wild poliovirus exists. But while Africa is declared free of the wild poliovirus, cases of vaccine-derived polio are still sparking outbreaks in some parts.

A vaccine-derived poliovirus is a rare form of the virus that mutates from oral polio and is now the only type of polio remaining in Africa.

It usually spreads to under-immunised communities. Some cases have already been recorded in Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic and Angola.

The vaccine-derived poliovirus is also very dangerous and is fast spreading across the continent.

Vaccine-derived polio

Meanwhile, the WHO has identified vaccine-derived cases of polio in 16 African countries.

Among these are Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad and Côte d’Ivoire. The rest are Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Togo and Zambia.

Children have also become more vulnerable, as the spread of COVID-19 has disrupted vaccination work in many countries. The pandemic has also forced the WHO to suspend over 40 campaigns to vaccinate children against polio in 38 countries, mostly in Africa.

Just over a decade ago, the continent had thousands of polio cases, with Nigeria accounting for more than half of all global cases. The virus usually affects children under the age of five. It causes irreversible paralysis and, in severe cases, death.

However, there has been a huge improvement in recent years. Nigeria recently became the last African country to be declared free from wild polio.

The disease has no cure but the vaccine protects children, with over 95% of Africa’s population currently immunised against the virus.

E A Alanore

Asaase Radio 99.5 – tune in or log on to broadcasts online.

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