Africa To Be Declared Free Of Wild Polio

An independent body, the Africa Regional Certification Commission is gearing up the continent as free of wild polio.

This is after Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, succeeded in removing the last vestiges of the virus on the continent by ridding itself of it.

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

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

The disease is now only found in Afghanistan and Pakistan, reports the BBC.

There is no cure but the polio vaccine protects children for life.

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.

The vaccination campaign in Nigeria involved a huge effort to reach remote and dangerous places under threat from militant violence and some health workers were killed in the process.

Without a cure, a vaccine developed in 1952 by Dr Jonas Salk gave hope that children could be protected from the disease. In 1961, Albert Sabin pioneered the oral polio vaccine which has been used in most national immunisation programmes around the world.

In 1996 poliovirus paralysed more than 75,000 children across the continent – every country was affected.

That year Nelson Mandela launched the “Kick Polio Out of Africa” programme, mobilising millions of health workers who went village-to-village to hand-deliver vaccines.

It was backed by a coalition of groups including Rotary International which had spearheaded the polio vaccination drive from the 1980s.

Since 1996 billions of oral polio vaccines have been provided, averting an estimated 1.8 million cases of wild poliovirus.

The last communities at risk of polio live in some of the most complicated places to deliver immunisation campaigns.

Nigeria is the last country in Africa to have reported a case of wild polio – in Borno state in Nigeria’s remote north-east, and the epicentre of the Boko Haram insurrection, in 2016.

At the time it was a frustrating set-back as the country had made huge progress and had gone two years without any cases being identified.

Outside Nigeria, the last place to have seen a case of polio was in the Puntland region of Somalia in 2014.

Conflict with the Islamist militant group Boko Haram has made parts of Nigeria particularly difficult to reach, Borno state in particular.

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