Nigeria and other African countries were on Tuesday, declared free from wild polio by the Africa Regional Certification Commission. With this development, the disease is now only found in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Polio is a virus that spreads from person to person, usually through contaminated water. It usually affects children under five, sometimes leading to irreversible paralysis.
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
Speaking during a media briefing on the certification of Africa Polio free, the Director-General of the World Health Organisation, WHO, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: “The substantial investments we have all made in defeating polio have delivered a rich reward. Although wild polio has been driven out of Africa, those investments will continue to bear fruit for many other health needs.”
“The Global Polio Eradication Initiative has helped to deliver vitamin A, bed nets and deworming tablets, and support for outbreaks including Ebola.”
“The COVID19 pandemic is once again demonstrating that polio staff is an essential public health workforce that can be quickly mobilized to serve the most vulnerable communities.”-
He explained that the local health workers were the backbone of the response, adding that, polio workers from WHO, UNICEF, the Polio STOP programme and CDC have been able to support the response to COVID19 in 36 African countries.
“Today is a day of celebration and a day of hope. Today we come together to rejoice over a historic public health success – the certification of wild poliovirus eradication in the African Region.
The end of wild polio in Africa is a great day. But as we all know, it’s not the end of polio. 16 countries still face outbreaks of vaccine-derived poliovirus, and we have a hard road ahead to eradicate wild poliovirus from Afghanistan and Pakistan.”-
He, however, warned that as long as polio persists anywhere, it was a threat everywhere.
“We must continue to -mobilize funds -strengthen health systems, especially for essential immunizations -train health workers -boost outreach services -listen to community concerns to counter misinformation
Also, in a joint press statement by WHO, UNICEF, the duo congratulated Nigeria and called for the strengthening of routine immunisation in the country.
The organisations maintained that achieving the milestone was not the end of the job, saying that, all children less than five years must continue to be vaccinated against vaccine-preventable diseases.
“This is critical to significantly reduce avoidable mortality in Nigerian children under 5 years old, keep polio permanently out of Nigeria, and ensure better health and well being for future generations.
WHO Nigeria Country Representative, Dr Walter Kazadi Mulumbo noted that the wild polio-free certification was undoubtedly the greatest public health triumph in the annals of Nigeria and indeed Africa that would bequeath to posterity lessons learned and best practices for addressing future public health interventions.
Also, UNICEF Representative in Nigeria, Peter Hawkins described the development as a momentous achievement that calls for a celebration.
“This historic achievement not only signifies the end of the wild poliovirus across the entire African continent but is also a significant springboard towards attaining global polio eradication.
“All caregivers must continue to vaccinate their children against vaccine-preventable childhood diseases, including polio. Religious and community leaders, as champions of wild poliovirus eradication, should continue to mobilize caregivers to vaccinate their children for all preventable diseases. Children need their help now more than ever.
“Not only is polio vaccination still crucial, but all routine vaccinations are also critical to children’s survival.
We must all work together to strengthen routine immunisation services and ensure that all children under five receive all vaccines, including the polio vaccine.”
The UN agencies also congratulated fellow Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) partners in Nigeria who helped reach this achievement: Rotary International; the US Centres for Disease Control (CDC); Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI); as well as Nigerian traditional and religious leaders and volunteer community mobilisers – the latter, the foot soldiers who fought to free the children of Nigeria from the wild poliovirus.
It could be recalled that 25 years ago thousands of children in Africa were paralysed by the virus.
The vaccination campaign in Nigeria involved a huge effort to reach remote and dangerous places under threat from militant violence and some health workers were killed in the process.