Africa has eradicated polio: World Health Organisation

Africa has eradicated polio, the World Health Organisation announced on Tuesday.

“Today we come together to rejoice over a historic public health success, the certification of wild poliovirus eradication in the African region,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization said.

“The end of wild polio in Africa is a great day.”

“Your success is the success of the world. None of us could have done this alone.”

Polio once was a common virus. In some young children it can affect the nerves and cause muscle weakness or paralysis. There is no treatment and no cure but getting vaccinated can prevent infection.

Governments and nonprofits have been working since 1996 to try to eradicate the virus from the African continent with sustained vaccination campaigns. Almost 9 billion polio vaccines have been delivered, Tedros said.

A large part of the eradication effort has been through the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), which was created in 1988 and is led by national governments and five partners — Rotary International, WHO, UNICEF, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Officials wanted to make sure polio was really gone and have waited four years since the last case of wild virus was diagnosed.

According to a WHO statement, “The last case of wild poliovirus in the region was detected in 2016 in Nigeria. Since 1996, polio eradication efforts have prevented up to 1.8 million children from crippling life-long paralysis and saved approximately 180,000 lives.”

The last region to eradicate wild polio was Southeast Asia. Polio has been eradicated in the Americas, Europe, most of Australasia and now in Africa. Wild strains of polio only circulate now in two countries: Afghanistan and Pakistan.