WHO declares Africa wild polio-free
The World Health Organisation, WHO, has declared Africa wild polio free as the Africa Regional Certification Commission, ARCC, certifies the continent of the deadly virus.
A coalition of international health bodies, national and local governments, community volunteers and survivors had committed to fighting the scourge on all fronts, for this to be achieved.
ARCC’s certification on Tuesday came after four years of last recorded cases of the virus in northern Nigeria.
The World Health Organization, WHO, regional director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti said: “It’s been a momentous, massive undertaking, with amazing persistence and perseverance, coming in the face of moments when we thought we were just about there, then we’d have a reversal.”
According to her, WHO played a central coordinating role within the Global Polio Eradication Initiative – a coalition of national governments and local leaders working with Unicef, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Rotary International and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention with millions of community volunteers across the continent.
“I would really like to pay tribute to polio survivors, who have joined in the fight, who have helped in sharing their experiences of disability with polio and the impact this has had on their lives,” she said.
The fight now is to improve the lives of survivors, Moeti said.
“This moment underlines the importance of paying attention and better prioritising the needs of people with disabilities in the African region. Health is not just the absence of a disease that can kill, it is a complete sense of wellbeing.”
Musbahu Lawan Didi, co-founder of Nigeria’s Association of Polio Survivors, campaigning for the rights of those with polio said: “It is incredible that what we have started years ago has built these results. As polio survivors we are the happiest and believe we’ll be the last polio survivors in the country.
“Ninety percent of polio survivors in Nigeria live in poverty. Many of us are trawling the streets to survive, begging. It should not be so.”
Dr Rose Leke, chair of the ARCC, an independent body set up by the WHO, said the declaration followed exhaustive assessments of surveillance systems in 47 African countries to ensure no cases were missed.
Efforts to eradicate wild polio globally were spurred by the formation of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative in 1988.
Several violent incidents were spurred by a rejection of vaccinations by local communities, said Dr Tunji Funsho, head of Rotary International’s Nigeria polio committee.
“A challenge was insidious rumours that the vaccine is not safe, that it could lead to HIV, Aids, could sterilise women with a view to reduce the population in the northern part of the country,” he said.
In 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari led the campaign by personally administering oral vaccine drops to one of his grandchildren.
“The sad thing is that some rejections are not just because they don’t believe in the polio vaccine, but they have … needs that come first,” said Funsho. For example, polio vaccinations take precedence over healthcare for more fatal diseases like malaria.
“So refusing vaccines becomes a kind of protest against the government,” he said.