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WHO declares Africa free of wild polio disease

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THE World Health Organisation (WHO), has certified Africa free of the wild polio virus, after Nigeria, the last country in the continent did not record a single case three years in a row.

“African Region is officially declared free of wild polio! Congratulations to all countries, partners & health workers,” the WHO said in a tweet on Tuesday.

The African Regional Certification Committee (ARCC) had on June 19 certified Nigeria free of the virus disease, three decades after battling poliomyelitis.

The Africa Regional Commission for Certification of poliomyelitis eradication (ARCC) is an independent body appointed in 1998 by the WHO Regional Director for African to oversee the certification and containment process. It is the only body that can certify that the Africa region is free of polio.

The WHO estimates that 1.8 million children in Africa have been saved from life-long paralysis from wild polio, before attaining the polio-free status.

However, despite the announcement, a vaccine-derived strain of the disease can still infect people where there is only partial vaccination and results in the same symptoms as the wild form might continue to circulate in Africa.

Vaccine-derived poliovirus cases can occur when the weakened live virus in the oral polio vaccine passes among under-immunized populations and eventually changes to a form that can cause paralysis.

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Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa advised that a continual vaccination will prevent a resurgence of a similar virus induced by the vaccine according to a Reuters report.

“We must stay vigilant and keep up vaccination rates to avert a resurgence of the wild poliovirus and address the continued threat of vaccine-derived polio,” he said.

The 16 countries in Africa that are currently affected by circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus outbreaks include Angola, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria and Zambia.

Speaking on the development, President Muhammadu Buhari remarked that he has fulfilled his pledge to rid Nigeria of the indigenous wild poliovirus.

President Buhari spoke during the online event where WHO declared Nigeria and the rest of Africa polio free.

He noted that he had promised Nigerians that he would not hand over a Nigeria with polio to his successor, and has fulfilled that promise.

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“This is indeed a truly historic event. I recall shortly after assuming office in 2015, I made a pledge to Nigerians that I would not  bequeath a polio-endemic country to my successor,” Buhari said.

“This certification is, therefore, a personal fulfillment of that pledge, not only to Nigerians but to all Africans.”

He congratulated the entire continent and the African Union leadership for the achievement.

“At a time when the global community is battling with the COVID-19 pandemic, this achievement strengthens my conviction that the requisite political will, investments, and strategies, as well as citizens’ commitment, will flatten the pandemic curve.

“I can affirm the commitment of all African leaders in this course of action. We must guard this achievement jealously and ensure that we take all necessary steps to prevent the resurgence of this deadly disease.”

The president appreciated the strong partnership and collaboration displayed to deliver this success.

He promised the global community that Nigeria will “sustain the momentum and leverage on the lessons learnt from the polio eradication to strengthen our health systems, especially primary healthcare and prioritise health security”.

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Amos Abba is a journalist with the International Center for Investigative Reporting, ICIR, who believes that courageous investigative reporting is the key to social justice and accountability in the society.

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