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Africa and the End of Polio

Updated: Feb 13

On 25 August 2020, 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

Only two countries worldwide continue to see wild poliovirus transmission: Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Polio usually affects children under five, sometimes leading to irreversible paralysis. Death can occur when breathing muscles are affected.

Twenty-five years ago, thousands of children in Africa were paralyzed by the virus.

There is no cure but the polio vaccine protects children for life.

Nigeria is the last African country to be declared free from wild polio, having accounted for more than half of all global cases less than a decade ago.

Nigeria has been the last country since the end of 2019 when Kenya, Mozambique, and Niger became polio-free. Source

What is polio and has it now been eradicated?

Polio is a virus which spreads from person to person, usually through contaminated water. It can lead to paralysis by attacking the nervous system.

Two out of three strains of wild poliovirus have been eradicated worldwide. On Tuesday, Africa has been declared free of the last remaining strain of wild poliovirus.

More than 95% of Africa's population has now been immunized. This was one of the conditions that the Africa Regional Certification Commission set before declaring the continent free from wild polio.

A region/continent is certified as free of wild polio after 3 years have passed without the virus being deteced in any of its countries.

How did we get to a place where we have the ability to eradicate polio

Without a cure a vaccine developed in 1952 which gave hope that children could be protected from the disease.

Global Polio Eradication Initiative began in 1988, roughly 350,000 kids a year were paralyzed by the virus. In 1996 poliovirus paralyzed more than 75,000 children across the continent - every country was affected.

That year Nelson Mandela launched the "Kick Polio Out of Africa" program with the support of Rotary International. By 2016 that number had been driven down to 42 cases of any type of polio anywhere in the world.

BUUUUTT…. While Africa is now free of wild polio, there are still 177 cases recorded this year of vaccine-derived polio.

This is a type of polio that mutates in vaccinated persons and then spreads to under-immunized communities.

Why has it taken long for Nigeria to become wild-polio-free?

The last communities at risk of polio live in some of the most complicated places to deliver immunization campaigns.

Nigeria is the last country in Africa to have reported a case of wild polio - in Borno state in Nigeria's remote north-east, and the epicentre of the Boko Haram insurrection, in 2016.

At the time it was a frustrating set-back as the country had made huge progress and had gone two years without any cases being identified.

Outside Nigeria, the last place to have seen a case of polio was in the Puntland region of Somalia in 2014.

Conflict with the Islamist militant group Boko Haram has made parts of Nigeria particularly difficult to reach, Borno state in particular.

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