The African Regional Certification Commission (ARCC) declared the continent free of Wild Poliovirus.
The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) said this milestone is a big stride towards achieving the goal of global Polio eradication.
According to NICD, Polio is the second human disease after Smallpox, to be globally wiped out through vaccination.
The contagious disease is a viral illness that can cause sudden weakness and permanent paralysis or death in previously healthy individuals, often children.
The institute said Polio, which is preventable through immunisation with a vaccine, used to cause large outbreaks throughout the world and in Africa.
“In 1988, when the Global Polio Eradication Initiative was launched, polio was found in more than 125 countries of the world and paralysed more than 350 000 people that year,” said the NICD.
For the last three decades, every African country has devoted enormous effort into keeping immunisation coverage high, conducting surveillance to look for Polio in every child paralysed for any reason and submitting data to the ARCC.
“The decades of work have come to fruition in this landmark achievement. It is a celebration of a global concerted effort towards a common goal, in which we acknowledge participation by every mother and guardian who has taken their child for routine immunisation.”
ARCC Chairperson, Professor Rose Gana Fomban Leke, said 25 August 2020 is a historic day for Africa.
“The ARCC for Polio eradication is pleased to announce that the region has successfully met the certification criteria for wild polio eradication, with no cases of the wild poliovirus reported in the region for four years,” said Leke.
The ARCC also heaped praise for former President Nelson Mandela who supported Rotary International that jumpstarted Africa’s commitment to Polio eradication with the launch of the Kick Polio Out Of Africa campaign in 1996.
At that time, Polio was paralysing about 75 000 children, annually.
The commission said Mandela’s call mobilised African nations and leaders across the continent to step up their efforts to reach every child with the polio vaccine.
Since 1996, Polio eradication efforts have prevented up to 1.8 million children from crippling life-long paralysis and saved approximately 180 000 lives, ARRC said.
The last case of Wild Poliovirus in the region was detected in 2016 in Nigeria, the ARCC said.
However, Moeti said the continent must remain vigilant and keep up vaccination rates to avert a resurgence of the wild poliovirus and address the continued threat of vaccine-derived polio (cVDPV2).
“While the eradication of Wild Poliovirus from the WHO African Region is a major achievement, 16 countries in the region are currently experiencing cVDPV2 outbreaks, which can occur in under-immunised communities,” Moeti added.
The NICD said Polio must not be allowed to return.
“We must not let down our guard and allow polio to return. Immunisation against Polio remains the foundation of protecting our communities against outbreaks. The declaration of Africa as free of Wild Poliovirus shows that we have the prospect of global Polio eradication within our grasp,” said the NICD.
“This is a momentous milestone for Africa. Now future generations of African children can live free of Wild Polio,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, World Health Organisation Regional Director for Africa.
“This historic achievement was only possible thanks to the leadership and commitment of governments, communities, global Polio eradication partners and philanthropists. I pay special tribute to the frontline health workers and vaccinators, some of whom lost their lives, for this noble cause.”