KAMPALA – Four years after Nigeria the last polio epidemic country in Africa recorded its last case of wild polio virus, Africa has been declared free from the wild polio virus.
This follows decades of efforts from rotary and its Global Polio Eradication (GPEI) partners, local and national leaders and health workers through the African region.
Poliomyelitis, commonly known as Polio is a highly infectious viral disease, which mainly affects children under the age of five.
In a statement released yesterday, rotary international stated that it was proud to announce a historic public health achievement as Africa was certified by the world health organisation as being wild polio virus free.
The announcement is in part a result of the cumulative actions of rotary and its members who have contributed nearly USD890million and countless volunteer hours to eliminate polio in the African region.
Over the course of the effort, 9billion doses of oral polio vaccine have been administered, hundreds of millions of children have been immunised, and 1.8million cases of wild polio virus have been averted throughout the region.
Rotary International president, Mr Holger Knaack explained that in the face of a pandemic, the world has had very little good news to celebrate in global health this year, and the challenges ahead are formidable.
“That is why we must recognise this great achievement and commend all the people who played important roles in eradicating wild polio in the African region. It took tremendous efforts and partnership over many years and I am particularly grateful for the rotary members throughout Africa and around the world who have dedicated themselves to making polio a disease of the past,” he said.
The road to the African regions wild polio virus free certification has been paid by the dedication of health workers mainly women and the leadership of all 47 countries in the African region.
According to Owek Robert Waggwa Nsibirwa, the past district governor of district 9211 (Uganda and Tanzania) while making the announcement said the news of Africa’s certification as free of the wild polio virus was uplifting.
“We are now living in sensitive and critical times where we have to watch our backs as we try to fight and keep ourselves free of the COVID-19 which is ravaging the world. Receiving news such as this gives us hope that if we work hard as a team and commit ourselves to the fight we can and will win, just as we have done with polio,” he said.
Nsibirwa added that he commends Rotarians in Africa and the world over for putting up a good fight and eliminating the debilitating disease from our continent as Africa has suffered tremendously from polio over the years, but we are relieved to be free of it.
“We are grateful to the World Health Organisation, the Uganda National Expanded Programme on Immunisation (UNEPI) and the Ministry of health for putting up a united front and eliminating polio from Uganda. Uganda was declared free from polio in 2006.”
Rotary and its GPEI partners first joined hands with Nelson Mandela in 1996 to mobilise leaders across the continent to commit to reaching every child with the Polio vaccine.
Dr Tunji Funsho chair of Rotary’s Nigeria National Polio Plus committee says they still have important work to do but this achievement shows that with collaboration, political and financial support, the global eradication of polio is possible.
A region is eligible for regional certification if three years have passed without detection of any wild polio virus in any country in that region from any source. Certification is only done following high-quality certification standard surveillance.
Rotary has contributed more than 2.1billion dollars to fight Polio, and countless volunteer hours since launching its polio-eradication programme, PolioPlus in 1985.
In 1988, Rotary formed the GPEI with the World Health Organization, UNICEF and the US centers for Disease control and prevention. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and Gavi, the vaccine alliance later joined. When the initiative launched, there were 350,000 cases of Polio every year. Today, the incidence of polio has plummeted by 99.9%.