After decades of work across 47 countries on the continent, the World Health Organisation declared the African region wild poliovirus-free on August 25, signifying a major milestone in the battle to eradicate the disease worldwide.
The certification comes four years after Nigeria, the last polio-endemic country in Africa, recorded its final case of wild poliovirus and is an incredible public health achievement for Rotary members, the African region, and Rotary’s partners in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI).
This progress is the result of a decades-long effort across the 47 countries that make up the WHO’s African region and now means that five of the six WHO regions, which represent 90 per cent of the world’s population, will be free of polio.
Efforts to get to this momentous stage have involved millions of health workers travelling by foot, boat, bike and bus to reach children, innovative strategies to vaccinate those living among conflict and insecurity, and a huge disease surveillance network to test cases of paralysis and check sewage for the virus.
In 1996, Rotary and its partners joined with Nelson Mandela to jumpstart Africa’s commitment to polio eradication. Since then, nine billion doses of oral polio vaccine have been provided, averting an estimated 1.8 million cases of wild poliovirus on the continent.
Rotary members have played an invaluable role in the effort to rid the African region of wild polio.
By raising funds for polio eradication, advocating with world governments and national and local leaders, and raising awareness, Rotarians have contributed nearly US$890 million to conquer polio in the region.
Despite this incredible public health milestone, the job to fully rid the world of polio goes on, as the virus continues to circulate in parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Vaccination programs must continue to reach every last child and strengthen routine immunisation to keep immunity levels high, so the virus does not return to Africa.
By Laura Willcox
Rotary Great Britain & Ireland