POLIO ERADICATION IN AFRICA: ‘STORIES OF PROGRESS: PAST AND PRESENT’

POLIO ERADICATION IN AFRICA: ‘STORIES OF PROGRESS: PAST AND PRESENT’

 

World Polio Day, 2020

October, 24th 2020

 

Poliomyelitis [Polio, for short] is a neuroparalytic disease caused by the poliovirus which mainly affects children under 5 years of age. It is transmitted from human to human via the fecal-oral route, in contaminated food and water or respiratory droplets, resulting in crippling and death when respiratory muscles are affected. 

 

The disease has, however, long been eradicated in most developed countries. Over the last 3 decades, Africa has strengthened the preventative measures to this incurable disease via extensive vaccination of children, in which over 220 million children are immunized yearly, reaching into the most remote corners of the continent [1]. In reward for the commitment, on the 25th of August 2020, the African continent joined the league as the 5th of the 6 WHO regions of the world to be certified free of the Wild Polio Virus [2] : a great feat for global health efforts in Africa. This came about as Nigeria—the last wild poliovirus endemic African country—passed its third consecutive year free of wild polio cases, leaving Afghanistan and Pakistan as the last strongholds of Polio in the world.

 

While savoring this public health landmark in ‘kicking wild polio out of Africa’, there is no letting our guards down as the number of cases of the circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus type 2 (cVDPD2) keeps on increasing, with the highest incidence coming from Africa. According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as of October 7th, 2020, 448 cases of cVDPD2 have been recorded globally [1]. This has been attributed to low and infrequent immunization, especially in communities with poor sanitation practices. Towards stemming the tide of this newer foe, a new vaccine called the novel Oral polio Vaccine (nOPV2) is being deployed and tested in programs coordinated by the CDC. Meanwhile, strategies to ensure full immunization with existing vaccines are being implemented. 

 

But, wait a minute, the world verges on eradicating polio; many incredible landmarks have been achieved so far in this fight. A reflection on the journey to illuminate the future is apt and desirable. This births the theme of this year’s (2020) commemoration of the World Polio Day: Stories of progress: past and present. This is to acknowledge the achievements won through collaborative efforts and celebrate our heroes in the front line of the battle, as individuals and organizations alike. Let’s catch a synopsis on the African strides.

 

Honour first to the names on the polio vaccine, Jonas Salk (IPV) and Albert Sabin (OPV); for that 1950s innovation, like vaccines for other diseases, redounded the game in the fight against polio. In 1996, attuned with global commitments, the great Nelson Mandela launched the ‘Kick Polio out of Africa’ campaign with Rotary International which was adopted by fellow African leaders towards the goal of a Polio-free Africa. Therewith came the support from different actors from healthcare workers, NGOs, social workers, polio survivors, celebrities, volunteer vaccinators and parents, who all played pivotal roles in providing extensive immunization for children; sometimes journeying across inhospitable terrains and surmounting objections through various engagements and campaigns. Polio vaccination is on the Expanded Program for Immunization scheme for newborns and infants in many African countries as well. 24 years down the line, Africa emerged victorious over wild polio, with over 9 billion doses of vaccine administered, 1.8 million polio cases averted and 220 million children immunized with help from about  2 million volunteer vaccinators network, each year. [4]

 

To this feat, there are icons in the movement who championed the course, from the great leader Nelson Mandela to philanthropists like Aliko Dangote, to celebrities like Tiwa savage of Nigeria and Staff Benda Bilili band of DR.Congo, to different motivated and altruistic survivors amongst others, all contributed remarkably to immunization and rehabilitation successes. [3]

 

Meet the faces of polio eradication in Africa here

 

Reflecting on our collective gains motivates us all for the remaining tasks ahead. And as Africa strengthened her surveillance system via Global Polio Eradication Initiative to prevent and/or quickly tackle any ingress of wild polio case and combat cVDPV2 with newer immunization strategies and vaccines, a tomorrow free of all forms of Polio is imminent.

 

However, as wild polio is still endemic in some parts of the world, all other regions are at risk. And because of that, all hands must remain on deck.

 

IPSF-AfRO joins in celebrating all our heroes today.

 

References

 

  1. CDC (2020). World Polio Day 2020. Global Immunization. [online] Accessed: 23/10/20

https://www.cdc.gov/globalhealth/immunization/wpd/index.html 

  1. CDC (2020). Africa kicks out Wild Polio. [Online] https://www.cdc.gov/polio/why-it-matters/africa-kicks-out-wild-polio.htm 
  2. Polio Eradication (2020) [online] https://polioeradication.org/news-post/rotarian-tunji-funsho-named-one-of-times-100-most-influential-people-in-the-world/ 
  3. WHO AfRO(2020) Polio [online] https://www.afro.who.int/health-topics/polio 

 

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