Africa to be declared free of wild polio in 'pivotal' milestone


Africa is expected to be declared free of wild polio by health authorities today after no cases were reported in the continent for more than four years.


Twenty-five years ago thousands of children in Africa were paralysed by the virus.


The disease is now only found in Afghanistan and Pakistan.


It is just the second time a virus has been eradicated in Africa, after the elimination of smallpox four decades ago.


Polio usually affects children under five, sometimes leading to irreversible paralysis. Death can occur when breathing muscles are affected.


Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO's regional director for Africa, said: “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.


“I would really like to pay tribute to polio survivors, who have joined in the fight, who have helped in sharing their experiences of disability with polio and the impact this has had on their lives."


In 1996, around 75,000 children in Africa were paralysed by polio.


More than 95% of Africa's population has now been immunised. This was one of the conditions that the Africa Regional Certification Commission set before declaring the continent free from wild polio.


The World Health Organization (WHO) has identified a number of these cases in Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic and Angola.


Nigeria is the last African country to be declared free from wild polio, having accounted for more than half of all global cases less than a decade ago.


Meanwhile, Health authorities have warned that the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted vaccination work in many countries across Africa, leaving more children vulnerable to infection.

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