From Fred Ezeh, Abuja
World Health Organization (WHO) has challenged African leaders to strengthen response measures to forestall “possible” resurgence of deadly polio virus in the region.
The UN Health Agency admitted that though tremendous success has been recorded over several years of response against polio in Africa but those gains could be lost as quickly as possible if adequate investments are not made in relevant areas to improve the health and wellbeing of the people.
WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, in a message to commemorate the 2022 World Polio Day,
highlighted global efforts toward a polio-free world, and also honoured the unwavering commitment of those on the frontlines of the fight to eradicate polio.
She said this year’s event kicked-off with discussions in Geneva between WHO, Rotary International and polio experts, to consider future efforts to continue the decades-long collaboration against polio.
She explained: since the landmark resolution for the worldwide eradication of polio was adopted in 1988 at the 41st World Health Assembly, global efforts have achieved a more than 99.9 per cent decrease in polio cases. As many as 20 million children have been spared disability and are walking today. Two of the three strains of wild poliovirus (Type 2 and Type 3) have been certified as eradicated, and in 2020 the African Region was certified as free of indigenous wild polio.
“This progress is admirable, and has safeguarded millions of children and their families from this crippling virus. However, there are detections of new outbreaks, including in areas where polio was believed to have been eradicated. It is a stark reminder that if we do not deliver on our promise to eradicate all forms of polio everywhere, no child is safe anywhere.
“The most updated statistics for the continent indicated that more than 250 cases of paralysis from polio have been recorded this year. That is too many. To halt outbreaks of the circulating polio variant, 500 million vaccine doses have been administered globally, 95 per cent of these in Africa. Following two immunisation rounds, no further transmission has been seen. The polio response has also prompted innovative digital technologies to identify, track and best deliver vaccines, especially to those in hard-to-reach areas.”
She said that Global Polio Eradication Initiative’s (GPEI) 2022-2026 strategy to end polio lays out the pathway to finish this last mile, stressing that the significant global commitment to fund the strategy, at the 2022 World Health Summit polio pledging event was extremely encouraging.
“In a show of global solidarity, the host country, Germany, along with 15 other countries, as well as charities, international organisations, and numerous private sector initiatives, committed more than US$ 2.6 billion to the strategy, more than half the total target.
“With this renewed financial commitment comes a critical opportunity to ramp up eradication efforts. For the African Region, this means improved surveillance and high-quality immunisation campaigns targeting zero-dose children for vaccination against all polio strains.
“At the end of the first quarter of 2022, WHO announced successful closure of 32 outbreaks in 10 countries. Yet, there are ongoing outbreaks that demand we stay vigilant and finish the job. This is critical for Africa to stamp out new cases of wild polio, as well as to safeguard our wild polio-free certification status,” she explained.