A victim of polio disease sits on a roller while jogging a soccer ball during a game of para-soccer in Abuja, Nigeria on Aug 22, 2020. [Photo/Agencies]
The independent Africa Regional Certification Commission, or ARCC, officially declared on Tuesday that the continent is free of wild polio.
The announcement marks the eradication of the second virus from the face of Africa since smallpox was eliminated four decades ago.
According to Rose Leke, ARCC chairwoman, the decision to declare Africa free of wild polio has come after an exhaustive, decadeslong process of documentation and analysis of polio surveillance, immunization and laboratory capacity of the region’s 47 member states of the World Health Organization, or WHO. The process included field verification visits to each country.
“Today is a historic day for Africa. The African Regional Certification Commission for Polio Eradication 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,” Leke said.
The last case of wild poliovirus in Africa was detected in 2016 in Nigeria. The WHO said that since 1996, polio eradication efforts have prevented up to 1.8 million children from crippling lifelong paralysis and saved approximately 180,000 lives.
In 1996, African heads of state committed to eradicate polio during the 32nd Ordinary Session of the Organization of African Unity in Yaounde, Cameroon. At the time, polio was paralyzing an estimated 75,000 children annually on the continent.
In the same year, Nelson Mandela with the support of Rotary International jump-started Africa’s commitment to polio eradication with the launch of the Kick Polio Out of Africa campaign. Mandela’s call mobilized African nations and leaders across the continent to step up their efforts to reach every child with polio vaccine.
Speaking just hours before the ARCC declared Africa free of the wild poliovirus, Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, said that this is a momentous milestone for Africa since future generations will live free of wild polio.
“This historic achievement was only possible thanks to the leadership and commitment of governments, communities, global polio eradication partners and philanthropists. I pay special tribute to the front-line health workers and vaccinators, some of whom lost their lives for this noble cause,” Moeti said.
“However, we must stay vigilant and keep up vaccination rates to avert a resurgence of the wild poliovirus and address the continued threat of the vaccine-derived polio.”
Moeti said the expertise gained from polio eradication will continue to assist Africa in tackling COVID-19 and other health problems.