21 African Countries Still Experience Circulating Variant Polio Outbreaks -WHO

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has said that the African Region was winning the war against Polio, however, 21 countries in the Region were still experiencing circulating variant polio outbreaks at the moment.

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WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti disclosed this in her message commemorating the 2023 World Polio Day.

Moeti noted that Africa had made significant progress and was on the threshold of polio eradication, however, there was work to be done.

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According to her, “we are getting there. As we mark this World Polio Day, let us renew our efforts to ‘Make Polio History’, in Africa”.

She said, with timely and effective interventions in response to ongoing poliovirus outbreaks, WHO in the African Region had continued its stride towards ending the debilitating virus.

Her message read in part:
“Although one case of polio is one too many, this year, we have seen a decrease in the number of detections in our region. From 438 circulating variant polio cases reported this time last year (end of September 2022) to 304 cases in the same period this year. This represents a decrease of 31% in the number of cases in the past 12 months.

“Moreover, we have seen no wild polio detections in our region in over a year. These results offer hope that the African Region will halt poliovirus circulation, to reach the global goal of polio eradication.

“In this last mile, however, we can’t rest on our laurels because 21 countries in the African Region are still experiencing circulating variant polio outbreaks at this very moment. Some of them are in areas that have not seen any previous circulation in decades.

“The COVID-19 pandemic adversely affected our fight, too, leading to a dip in population immunity and a resurgence of certain poliovirus types. This, combined with challenges related to vaccine availability, has heightened transmission risks. Last year’s wild polio cases in Malawi and Mozambique were a stark reminder that until the world is wild polio-free, all countries and regions remain at risk.

“To counter this, Member States are rapidly declaring and responding to polio and other health emergencies during outbreaks.

“I reiterate the tremendous efforts made in each country of the African Region on delivering high-quality vaccination campaigns and routine immunization as critical steps towards our region’s path to polio eradication.

“In addition, cross-border coordination for joint actions to track poliovirus and vaccinate children on the move continues to be a priority to end polio. Also, the use of innovative health solutions has a critical role to play in monitoring the effectiveness of vaccination campaigns.

“Our overall objective in the African Region is to stop the transmission of all types of polio and to integrate polio assets into activities to strengthen broader disease surveillance, outbreak response capacities, and immunization services.

“This aligns with Polio Eradication Strategy 2022–2026: Delivering on a Promise.

“I count on the continued assistance of all our partners as we work with our Member States to prioritize reaching “zero dose” children sometimes living under the most difficult circumstances and ensure quality and successful campaigns.

“I look forward to the enduring support of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) and Gavi in the African Region to close the widening immunity gap and bring immunization back to pre-pandemic levels.

“I acknowledge the momentum of political commitment, and the recent innovative finance partnership (by the EU Commission, Gates Foundation, UNICEF, and the European Investment Bank).

“This is essential to making polio history and, in doing so, strengthening our health systems. Polio currently constitutes the only Public Health Emergency of International Concern, and we must continue to advocate to ensure the required action is carried out.

“Let’s continue these efforts: first, enhance surveillance; then, increase the scale and scope of our response; and finally, maintain our dedication and commitment to the eradication effort.

“That was how we ended wild polio in Africa when, on 25 August 2020, the Africa Regional Certification Commission for Poliomyelitis Eradication declared Africa free of indigenous wild poliovirus Type 1.

“With the same perseverance, we can end all forms of paralysis caused by all types of polioviruses”.

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