Africa becomes Polio free today

Sierra Leone will join other African countries today to mark the continent’s polio free status at the Public Health Emergency office in Wilkinson Road.The independent Africa Regional Certification Commission (ARCC), responsible for certifying the eradication of wild poliovirus in the World Health Organisation (WHO) African Region, is set to announce today 25th August 2020 that Africa is polio free. Following field verification visits over the past year and thorough critical analysis of the documentation of the polio surveillance, immunisation and laboratory capacity presented by the governments of Cameroon, Central African Republic, Nigeria and South Sudan, the Commission has validated that the countries’ documentation grants them wild polio-free status.

In August 2019, the African Region became eligible to be certified free of wild poliovirus, after Nigeria, the last wild poliovirus endemic country, recorded no new cases in three years, the requisite period since it last reported cases of wild poliovirus. The Commission had already accepted the documentation of the other 43 countries in the region. “We are satisfied with the documentation that the four countries have presented. We are reviewing updated reports from the other 43 countries in the WHO African Region and we anticipate that by August 2020, we will deliver our final decision on the region’s certification status of wild poliovirus eradication,” said Professor Rose Leke, ARCC Chairperson.

“This achievement by Cameroon, Central African Republic, Nigeria and South Sudan is a major step towards the eradication of wild poliovirus in the African region,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa. “As the continent struggles with COVID-19, this milestone shows that when leaders, partners, health workers and communities come together we can triumph over the most difficult health challenges.” Africa would be the fifth of the six WHO regions to be declared free of wild polio. However, the scale of ongoing circulating vaccine-derived polio outbreaks is a battle the region is striving to win.

Efforts are underway to urgently address the circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus outbreaks, also within the context of polio eradication being a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.  Even though they are not wild polioviruses, such rare strains which can emerge in areas of low population immunity also paralyse children.  WHO, UNICEF, Rotary International, the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance continue to support governments in their efforts to stop the ongoing circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus outbreaks, including by implementing a new response strategy.

The aim is to ensure that no child anywhere in Africa will ever again be paralysed by any poliovirus, wild or vaccine-derived. With the COVID-19 pandemic, mass immunisations across the region have been postponed until further notice, which hinders outbreak response activities. The polio eradication programme in the African Region, in addition to its support to the COVID-19 response, is working with countries to ensure the continuity of essential disease surveillance activities as well as planning the resumption of immunisation and outbreak response in compliance with the guidance to stop COVID-19 transmission.