Four years after the last recorded case in northern Nigeria, Africa has been declared free from wild polio.
The Africa Regional Certification Commission (ARCC) made the declaration – the end result of decades of work from organisations, charities, governments and survivors from all across the world, BBC News reports.
Efforts to rid the continent of the debilitating virus, its effects ranging from irreversible paralysis to even death, have been coming to a close off the back of a recent campaign to vaccine and monitor children in Borno State.
The World Health Organization (WHO) played a key role in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, which brought local and national leaders together with UNICEF, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Rotary International and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, alongside millions of community volunteers.
Dr Rose Leke, chair of the ARCC, an independent body set up by WHO, explained that all of Africa’s 47 countries were thoroughly analysed before broaching the declaration.
Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO’s regional director for Africa, told The Guardian: ‘It’s been a momentous, massive undertaking, with amazing persistence and perseverance, coming in the face of moments when we thought we were just about there, then we’d have a reversal.’
I would really like to pay tribute to polio survivors, who have joined in the fight, who have helped in sharing their experiences of disability with polio and the impact this has had on their lives.
This moment underlines the importance of paying attention and better prioritising the needs of people with disabilities in the African region. Health is not just the absence of a disease that can kill, it is a complete sense of well-being.
Since the formation of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative in 1988, wild polio cases fell from an estimated 350,000 to 33 reported cases in 2018.
While 75,000 children across Africa suffered from polio in 1994, the subsequent 26 years have seen much improved surveillance and efforts to combat scepticism over vaccines. Now, the focus will switch to helping improve the lives of survivors, the majority of whom live in poverty.
Musbahu Lawan Didi, co-founder of Nigeria’s Association of Polio Survivors, explained:
It is incredible that what we have started years ago has built these results. As polio survivors we are the happiest and believe we’ll be the last polio survivors in the country. 90% of polio survivors in Nigeria live in poverty. Many of us are trawling the streets to survive, begging. It should not be so.
While an insurgency in northern Nigeria and stark, furious disbelief hindered the fight for vaccines, Lawan Didi, diagnosed with polio when he was two years old, explained that the tide began to turn when victims got involved in campaigning.
He said: ‘People saw us, and communicated with us. We could explain to them this is not a spiritual thing, but can be prevented with vaccines. It gave them a change of heart.’
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Topics: Health, Africa, Now, Vaccines, World Health Organization