Africa: Sierra Leone Celebrates Africa’s Landmark Achievement Against Polio

FREETOWN, 25 August 2020 – Sierra Leone is celebrating a strategic landmark public health achievement in Africa as the continent is certified today by the World Health Organization, to be free of wild poliovirus transmission. The announcement was made at the virtual session of the 70th Regional Committee for Africa, which is the Organization’s highest decision-making body on health policy in Africa. The Committee comprises of Ministers of Health from each of the 47 WHO Member States in the Region.

Polio disease is highly debilitating and paralyzes its victims for life with resultant lifelong challenges and the inability to attain life’s full potentials. Severe forms of the disease can lead to death. Vaccination is the safest means of prevention against the disease.

The Global Polio Eradication Initiative was launched in 1988 spearheaded by national governments around the world, WHO, Rotary International, CDC-USA, UNICEF, and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.

The last case of wild poliovirus in Africa was reported from Nigeria in 2016. Since then, no new case of the disease has been reported in the region. The wild polio Free Certification the continent gained today is an important step towards the global eradication effort against the disease. To date, only two countries, Pakistan and Afghanistan, still have wild poliovirus in the world.

Sierra Leone has made great progress in fighting polio. The country reported its last confirmed wild polio case in 2010 and has since built improved national structures, tools and capacity to strengthen surveillance of the disease including at community levels.

“What we are celebrating today as a people is the continent-wide commitment and dedication by frontline health workers, caregivers and African leaders, local governments and our community leaders, along with the strong support of our international partners. It has been a people’s agenda and we are proud as a country to have made significant contributions to this great achievement”, say Dr Alpha Tejan Wurie, Minister of Health and Sanitation

Wild poliovirus is the second disease to be eradicated on the African continent after smallpox in 1980. The last case of smallpox was reported in Somalia in 1977. In Sierra Leone, the wild poliovirus is the third disease to be eradicated after smallpox and Yaws.

“Today’s milestone has been a long arduous journey. Many years ago, when everyday more than 1000 cases of polio were recorded globally, the thought of reaching this stage in the fight against the disease was farfetched. However, today’s event is evidence of the fact that immunization campaigns and strong routine services are important first steps of protection against preventable diseases”, says Evans Liyosi, WHO Representative in Sierra Leone. “We feel particularly proud that we are celebrating this day in our own lifetime. However, we have a long and critical transition ahead of us as the virus is still in circulation in at least two countries in the world. That requires us to continue surveillance and to vaccinate our children against the disease until polio is completely eradicated from every country”.