The global health body said as many as 20 million children have been spared disability and are walking today.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Monday said global efforts to curtail spread of the poliovirus have achieved a 99.9 per cent decrease in polio cases.
The WHO Regional Director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, in a statement to commemorate the 2022 World Polio Day (WPD), said as many as 20 million children have been spared disability and are walking today.
Ms Moeti said since the landmark resolution for the worldwide eradication of polio was adopted in 1988 at the 41st World Health Assembly, global efforts have yielded positive results.
She said 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,” she said.
World Polio Day
The World Polio Day is marked annually on October 24, providing an opportunity to highlight global efforts toward a polio-free world, and to honour the unwavering commitment of those on the frontlines of the fight to eradicate polio.
The 2022 edition of the global event, which is themed: “A Healthier Future for Mothers and Children,” 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.
Poliomyelitis (polio) is a highly infectious viral disease, which mainly affects young children.
It is transmitted person-to-person spread mainly through the faecal-oral route or, through contaminated water or food and multiplies in the intestine, from where it can invade the nervous system and can cause paralysis.
Africa was certified polio free in August 2020 following the elimination of the virus in Nigeria. Nigeria was the last African country to eliminate the virus which can be prevented with adequate vaccination.
“On World Polio Day, I take this opportunity to sincerely thank all the dedicated health workers who are delivering on the polio promise, going door-to-door to administer vaccines in often challenging circumstances, to safeguard every eligible child,” Ms Moeti said.
Ms Moeti said detections of new outbreaks, including in areas where polio was believed to have been eradicated, is a stark reminder that no child is safe until all forms of polio are eradicated.
She noted that the Global Polio Eradication Initiative’s (GPEI) 2022-2026 Strategy to end polio lays out the pathway to finish this last mile.
She said the significant global commitment to fund the strategy, at the 2022 World Health Summit Polio Pledging Event earlier this month, 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,” she said.
Ms Moeti said this renewed financial commitment provides a critical opportunity to ramp up eradication efforts.
She said for the African Region, this means improved surveillance and high-quality immunisation campaigns targeting zero-dose children for vaccination against all polio strains.
The regional director said at the end of the first quarter of 2022, WHO announced the successful closure of 32 outbreaks in 10 countries.
She, however, said there are ongoing outbreaks that demand the region to stay vigilant and finish the job.
She said this is critical for Africa to stamp out new cases of wild polio, as well as to safeguard the wild polio-free certification status.
Ms Moeti said updated statistics for the continent shows that more than 250 cases of paralysis from polio have been recorded this year.
She noted that to halt outbreaks of the circulating polio variant, 500 million vaccine doses have been administered globally, 95 per cent of these in Africa.
She said no further transmission has been seen following two immunisation rounds.
Ms Moeti said the polio response has also prompted innovative digital technologies to identify, track and best deliver vaccines, especially to those in a hard-to-reach area
“Our endeavors to deliver a polio-free world are also helping strengthen the greater public health system, boosting the overall response to other health threats and emergencies.
“The polio structure has been instrumental in supporting surveillance and the COVID-19 vaccine rollout globally, also increasing the efficiency of the Region’s emergency responses to diseases including measles and cholera,” she said.
She said it is critical for the continent to continue to advance polio transition plans in tandem with eradication efforts, in order to best leverage its limited public health resources.