Africa declared free of polio

Africa has been declared free from wild polio by the independent body, the Africa Regional Certification Commission.

Polio usually affects children under five, sometimes leading to irreversible paralysis. Death can occur when breathing muscles are affected.

Twenty-five years ago, thousands of children in Africa were paralysed by the virus.

The disease is now only found in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

There is no cure but the polio vaccine protects children for life.

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.

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.

Polio is a virus which spreads from person to person, usually through contaminated water. It can lead to paralysis by attacking the nervous system.

Two out of three strains of wild polio virus have been eradicated worldwide.

More than 95 per cent of Africa’s population has now been immunised. This was one of the conditions that the Africa Regional Certification Commission set before declaring the continent free from wild polio.

Now only the vaccine-derived polio virus remains in Africa with 177 cases being identified this year.

This is a rare form of the virus that mutates from the oral polio vaccine and can then spread to under-immunised communities.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has identified a number of these cases in Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic and Angola.

Without a cure, a vaccine developed in 1952 by Dr Jonas Salk gave hope that children could be protected from the disease. In 1961, Albert Sabin pioneered the oral polio vaccine which has been used in most national immunisation programmes around the world.

In 1996, poliovirus paralysed more than 75,000 children across the continent – every country was affected.

That year, Nelson Mandela launched the “Kick Polio Out of Africa” programme, mobilising millions of health workers who went village-to-village to hand-deliver vaccines.

It was backed by a coalition of groups including Rotary International which had spearheaded the polio vaccination drive from the 1980s. -BBC

Show More
Back to top button