African continent declared free of wild polio: WHO

New Delhi (NVI): The World Health Organization (WHO) today certified the total eradication of poliomyelitis in Africa, after decades of work by a coalition of international health bodies, national and local governments, community volunteers and survivors.

Four years after the last recorded cases of wild polio in northern Nigeria, the African continent has been declared free of the wild polio virus, which can cause irreversible paralysis and in some cases death.

The official announcement was made in a video conference by WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

Tedros said, “Today we are celebrating another public health triumph: the eradication of wild poliovirus in Africa. This is an incredible achievement, and a much-needed cause for celebration.”

The achievement is the result of a campaign to vaccinate and monitor children in Borno State, the final front of polio eradication efforts on the continent, and the heart of the jihadist insurgency in Nigeria.

Poliomyelitis, or “wild polio” is an acutely infectious and contagious disease which attacks the spinal cord and causes irreversible paralysis in children.

It was endemic around the world until a vaccine was found in the 1950s, though this remained out of reach for many poorer countries in Asia and Africa.

As late as 1988, the WHO counted 3,50,000 cases globally, and in 1996 said there were more than 70,000 cases in Africa alone.

“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,” Dr Matshidiso Moeti, the World Health Organization (WHO) regional director for Africa, said.

“Thanks to the relentless efforts by governments, donors, frontline health workers and communities, up to 1.8 million children have been saved from the crippling life-long paralysis,” the WHO said in a statement.