The independent Africa Regional Certification Commission, responsible for certifying the eradication of wild poliovirus in the WHO African Region, made its final decision about the region’s wild poliovirus – free status on Tuesday.
Africa’s wild polio-free status was determined based on the field verification visits over the past year and on the critical analysis of the documentation of the polio surveillance, immunization and laboratory capacity presented by the governments of Cameroon, Central African Republic, Nigeria and South Sudan.
In August 2019, the African Region became eligible to be certified free of wild poliovirus, after Nigeria, the last wild poliovirus endemic country, recorded no new cases three years – the requisite period – since it last reported cases of wild poliovirus.
The commission had already accepted the documentation of the other 43 countries in the region.
The WHO, however, had in June 2020 certified Nigeria a polio-free country, after three consecutive years of not recording any outbreak.
The last wild poliovirus-caused paralysis was detected in August 2016 in Nigeria, while the last environment sample with traces of the wild poliovirus was detected in Kaduna State from a sewage sample collected in May 2014.
WHO said the disease was at the moment, endemic in only two countries – Afghanistan and Pakistan, thereby bringing the world one major step closer to achieving the goal of ending polio.
The certification of the African region makes it the fifth of the six WHO regions to be declared free of wild polio.
However, the WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, said the scale of ongoing circulating vaccine-derived polio outbreaks is a battle the region is striving to win.
Currently, 12 African countries in the WHO African Region, namely: Angola, Benin, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Niger, Nigeria, Togo and Zambia are experiencing the outbreak.
Vaccine-derived polioviruses are rare, but these viruses are sometimes found in severely under-immunised populations living in areas with inadequate sanitation.
Moeti said efforts are underway to urgently address the circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus outbreaks, also within the context of polio eradication being a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.
Moeti said WHO, UNICEF, Rotary International, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, will continue to support governments in their efforts to stop the ongoing circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus outbreaks, including by implementing a new response strategy.
The aim, the WHO says is to ensure that no child anywhere in Africa will ever again be paralysed by any poliovirus – wild or vaccine-derived.
Polio is a viral disease, that is transmitted from person to person, mainly through a faecal-oral route or, less frequently, through contaminated water or food, and multiplies inside the intestines.