Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), a global public-private partnership to eradicate polio, has congratulated World Health Organisation (WHO), African Region, for being certified Polio-free after four years without a case.
GPEI said this in a statement posted on its website on Wednesday.
The independent Africa Regional Certification Commission (ARCC) for Polio Eradication on Tuesday, officially declared WHO African Region is free of wild poliovirus.
“With this historic milestone, five of the six WHO regions – representing over 90 per cent of the world’s population – are now free of the wild poliovirus, moving the world closer to achieving global polio eradication.
“Only two countries worldwide continue to see wild poliovirus transmission: Pakistan and Afghanistan.
“GPEI congratulates the national governments of the 47 countries in the WHO African Region for the achievement.
“Ending wild polio virus in Africa is one of the greatest public health achievements of our time and provides powerful inspiration for all of us to finish the job of eradicating polio globally.”
The statement quoted WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, as saying: “I thank and congratulate the governments across the region.
“I also congratulate and thank health workers, community volunteers, traditional and religious leaders and parents across the region who have worked together to kick wild polio out of Africa.”
The statement noted that strong leadership and innovation were instrumental in stopping the wild poliovirus in the region.
“Countries successfully coordinated their efforts to overcome major challenges to immunising children.
“They overcome challenges such as high levels of population movement, conflict and insecurity restricting access to health services, and the virus’s ability to spread quickly and travel across borders.
“In addition, the continued generosity and shared commitment of donors – including governments, the private sector, multilateral institutions and philanthropic organisations – to achieving a polio-free world helped build the infrastructure.
“It helped build the infrastructure that enabled the African region to reach more children than ever before with polio vaccines and defeat wild polio.’’
The statement quoted Rotary International President Holger Knaack, as saying: “During a challenging year for global health, the certification of the African region as wild poliovirus-free is a sign of hope.
“It also a sign of progress that shows what can be accomplished through collaboration and perseverance.
“Since 1996, when Nelson Mandela joined with Rotary, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, and governments of the African region, we’ve achieved something remarkable.
“The milestone tells us that polio eradication is possible, as long as the world remains committed to finishing the job.
“Let us work together to harness our collective energies to overcome the remaining challenges and fulfil our promise of a polio-free world.”
The statement further noted that the resources and expertise used to eliminate wild polio had significantly contributed to Africa’s public health and outbreak response systems.
“The polio programme provides far-reaching health benefits to local communities, from supporting the African region’s response to COVID-19 to bolstering routine immunisation against other vaccine-preventable diseases.
“We must not become complacent while this is a remarkable milestone. Continued commitment to strengthening immunisation and health systems in the African region is essential.
“It is essential to protect progress against wild polio and to tackle the spread of type 2 circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus (cVDPV2), which is present in 16 countries in the region.
“Pockets of low immunity mean such strains continue to pose a threat and the risk is magnified by interruptions in vaccination due to COVID-19, which have left communities more vulnerable to cVDPV2 outbreaks.
“The GPEI calls on countries and donors to remain vigilant against all forms of polio. Until every strain is eradicated worldwide, the incredible progress made against polio globally will be at risk.’’
In addition, it stated that the WHO African Region’s success against wild polio had shown the world that progress against some of the biggest global health challenges is possible.
“The GPEI is grateful for every person, partner, donor and country who helped bring about this incredible achievement.’’
GPEI is a partnership led by national governments with five partners, WHO, Rotary International, the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Gavi. (NAN)