WHO Says Africa Polio Free


Aljazeera news network on 26th Aug 2020 reported “A momentous milestone: Africa now free from wild poliovirus”. World Health Organization has declared the African continent as poliovirus free. Nigeria was the last country to suffer from wild poliovirus in the African continent.

As per the report, Africa Regional Certification Commission (ARCC) for polio eradication officially declared that Africa is free of wild poliovirus. ARCC is a 16-person board appointed by the World Health Organization in the year 1998. ARCC was tasked with overseeing the eradication of the wild poliovirus from the African continent.

This event marks the eradication of the second virus from the face of the continent since smallpox virus 40 years ago.

What is Polio?

Polio is a virus that spreads from person to person, usually through contaminated water. It can lead to paralysis by attacking the nervous system of the human body. 2 out of 3 strains of wild poliovirus have been eradicated worldwide. There are two types of poliovirus namely :

  • Wild poliovirus
  • Vaccine derived poliovirus

Now only the vaccine-derived polio virus remains in Africa with 177 cases being identified this year.

What is Vaccine Derived Polio?

Oral Polio Vaccine (OPV) contains an attenuated i.e. weakened vaccine – virus, this activates an immune response in the body. When a child is immunized with OPV, the weakened vaccine-virus replicates in the intestine for a limited period, in response to which body develops immunity by building antibodies.

During this time, the vaccine -virus is also excreted. In areas of inadequate sanitation, this excreted vaccine-virus can spread in the immediate community, before eventually being inactivated.

How Serious is Polio?

Polio mainly affects children aged under five. It invades the nervous system and can cause total paralysis in a matter of hours. Among those paralyzed, 5% to 10% of people die when their breathing muscles become immobilized.

How did Africa Eliminate Wild Polio?

To give a brief historical description, in the year 1961, Albert Sabin pioneered the oral polio vaccine which has been used in most national immunization programs around the world.

In the context of the African continent in the year, 1996 poliovirus paralyzed more than 75,000 children across the continent. Poliovirus affected every country on the African continent. That year Nelson Mandela launched the “Kick Polio Out of Africa” initiative, this mobilized millions of health workers who went village to village to hand-deliver vaccines.

Now, more than 95% of Africa’s population has now been immunized. This was one of the conditions that ARCC set before declaring the continent free from wild polio. Also note that no new case of poliovirus should be reported in the last 4 years, to be declared polio-free.

The last communities at risk of polio live in some of the most complicated places to deliver immunization campaigns. Nigeria is the last country in Africa to have reported a case of wild polio in Borno state in Nigeria’s remote northeast area in the year 2016.

Can Wild Polio Return?

Polio can be easily imported into a country that is polio-free and from there it can spread rapidly among under-immunized populations. It was reported in Angola. Angola was declared polio-free in the year 2001, but in the year 2005, many cases were reported.

WHO says that It is important that countries remain vigilant and avoid complacency until there is global eradication. For all type of polio to be eliminated, including vaccine-derived polio, vaccination efforts will need to continue alongside surveillance, to protect children from being paralyzed by the disease in the future.

India & Polio:

WHO officially declares India ‘polio-free’ in the year 2014.

Countries Still Affected by Wild Polio Virus:

The only two countries which are still affected by wild polio virus are Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Source: Aljazeera news network, Aug’20. Various other reports.

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