Africa Declared Free of Wild Polio

Global eradication of polio is getting closer to a reality

Sep 1, 2020

While polio has been eradicated in the west for many years, that has not been the case in other areas of the globe. Now, a new breakthrough has been reached. The end of August 2020 marked a historic milestone as Africa has been declared polio free.

The World Health organization (WHO) announced in a news release that over 90 percent of the world’s population are now free of the wild  polio virus and are close to achieving total eradication of this greatly feared disease. Two of three strains of polio were already considered eliminated worldwide.

“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,” said WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “I thank and congratulate the governments, health workers, community volunteers, traditional and religious leaders and parents across the region who have worked together to kick wild polio out of Africa.”

Polio is a disease that usually affects children under the age of five, and frequently leads to irreversible paralysis and death if the breathing muscles are affected.  According to the US Center for Disease Control (CDC), polio was once one of the most feared diseases and there were 15,000 cases in America a year before a vaccine was pioneered by Jonas Salk in 1952. An oral vaccine was developed by Albert Sabin in 1961 and the disease was considered eradicated in the US in 1979.

Some places were harder to reach and since polio is spread from person to person and through contaminated water, Africa was one of those places according to the BBC. In 1996, polio paralyzed over 75,000 children continent wide. That’s why Nelson Mandela of South Africa launched the "Kick Polio Out of Africa" program that year.

The BBC wrote that the program: “mobilized health workers who went village-to-village to hand-deliver vaccines.” Nigeria was the last remaining country on the continent where polio still existed with 177 cases identified last year.

The vaccine effort in Nigeria involved a tremendous effort to reach very remote and dangerous locations. There were also unfounded rumors about the vaccine that had to be overcome. Now 95 percent of the population is vaccinated and this was one of the requirements that was set by the Africa Regional Certification Commission to be able to declare the continent polio-free.

Now wild polio is only found in two countries: Pakistan and Afghanistan according to the WHO. “Today’s 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,” Rotary International president (one of the organizations involved in the effort) Holger Knaack said in the press release.

In a world in the grip of a viral pandemic, the eradication of polio is a hopeful sign that when we all work together, great things happen.

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BONNIE RIVA RAS, EDITOR & WRITER
Bonnie Riva Ras has dedicated her life to promoting social justice. She loves to write about empowering women, helping children, educational innovations, and advocating for the environment & sustainability.