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'A great day': Africa successfully eradicates polio

After several decades of medical and social efforts from the global community, the continent has finally eradicated the wild poliovirus.

'A great day': Africa successfully eradicates polio
Image Source: Cyclone Pam Batters South Pacific Islands. PORT VILA, VANUATU - MARCH 17. (Photo by UNICEF via Getty Images)

The World Health Organization (WHO) announced on Tuesday that the continent of Africa had successfully eradicated the wild poliovirus following decades of medical and social efforts. A large part of the eradication initiative was driven by the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, created in 1988 and led by national governments and five additional partners. The decision to finally declare the region free of the virus came after many years of polio surveillance, immunization, and laboratory analysis of the continent's 47 member states. The last case of the wild poliovirus was detected in Nigeria, the last country to eradicate the disease, in 2016, CNN reports.





Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization and the chair of the polio oversight board, announced the milestone via a live stream event. "Today we come together to rejoice over a historic public health success, the certification of wild poliovirus eradication in the African region," he stated. "The end of wild polio in Africa is a great day. Your success is the success of the world. None of us could have done this alone." The efforts to eradicate the virus began in 1996. Governments and nonprofits came together in order to run sustained vaccination campaigns. To date, a total of 9 million vaccinations have been delivered according to Tedros.





US Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar also congratulated the continent on its success. He stated in a prerecorded message, "Today is a historic day for global health, and it's a cause for celebration for everyone who works to improve Africans' health. Congratulations to everyone who helped make it possible." Congratulations also came in from US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Robert Redfield and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation co-chair Bill Gates. Both organizations are part of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, in addition to Rotary International, UNICEF, and of course, WHO.



Health officials waited four years before making the landmark announcement as they wanted to ensure the wild poliovirus was in fact completely eradicated. As per a statement published by the WHO, "According to a WHO statement, "The last case of wild poliovirus in the region was detected in 2016 in Nigeria. Since 1996, polio eradication efforts have prevented up to 1.8 million children from crippling life-long paralysis and saved approximately 180,000 lives." However, this does not mean that no child will develop polio symptoms. The weakened version of the virus, utilized to make the oral vaccine, can on some occasions survive in populations that are under-immunized. This form of the virus is known as a circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus. 16 African countries are currently battling outbreaks of this strain.



Nonetheless, this version is also being contained to the continent's best possible ability; children are given two doses of immunization. The first dose is an easy-to-administer drop, and the second, a shot, which is made using a completely inactivated poliovirus that cannot be re-activated. The moment is still one to celebrate. Gates, who congratulated the region on its progress, also expressed a word of caution: it is important to protect the progress made. At a time when the world is battling another deadly disease, he reminded us that the wild poliovirus was still active in other regions, such as in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Until it is eradicated everywhere, he urged, it can still return.



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