The news was declared by the Africa Regional Certification Commission (ARCC) for Polio Eradication. The declaration was called a 'momentous milestone' in the history of the continent.
47 countries in the UN World Health Organisation (WHO) were officially declared free of the virus. No cases have been reported in the past 4 years. Polio causes paralysis and has been affecting mainly children below the age of 5. The virus is transmitted from one person to another, through contact with feces, water, or food. The virus enters the body via the mouth and then multiplies in the intestines. There is no cure for polio available yet. The prevention of diseases has been based on oral vaccinations.
Milestone in History
The process involved a decade long method of immunization, surveillance, documentation, field verifications, and visits to each country regularly. The last case of the virus was detected in Nigeria back in 2016. Professor Rose Gana Fomban Leke, ARCC Chairperson, called it a historic day for Africa.
The process to contain the virus began back in 1996 when a promise was made by the Heads of the States during the 32nd session of the Organization of African Unity. The conference was held in Yaounde, Cameroon. The leaders promised to eradicate polio. 75,000 children have paralyzed annually during that time.
Nelson Mandela also took part in the commitment to eradicate the virus by launching the Kick Polio Out of Africa Campaign. The campaign was supported by the Rotary International. It prepared the nations to put efforts to ensure that every child got the polio vaccine dose.
Nearly 2 Million Children Saved
The polio eradication efforts have saved the lives of 1.8 million children, the data given by WHO. This was made possible by the leadership and commitment by the local governments, communities, and philanthropists.
However, Dr. Moeti, Regional Director of WHO Regional Office of Africa, said that African countries have to remain careful against the reappearance of the virus. Regular vaccinations are the best way to keep the virus out. Chances are there that the weakened virus in the oral vaccine dosage mutates and passes to the low-immunized population. More research is going on to prevent such reappearance.
A Lesson for the Future
The WHO officials in Africa said that process of eradication of the wild poliovirus has provided them, and the local governments with experience. African nations face the challenge of weak healthcare systems, logistical problems. Yet the nations were successful in reaching this milestone. Dr. Moeti also added that the innovation and expertise that was gained during this process is going to help them contain future spreads. This experience will also be used in the process of containing the COVID-19 virus, which is still spreading across the world. South Africa is the most affected African country with more than 600K cases, and more than 13K fatalities. We can only hope the cooperation continues and wild polio is prevented from appearing again.
Author: Subhasri Banerjee
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