Government of African countries on Thursday have restated their commitments towards ensuring that all forms of polio on the continent are wiped out after efforts to crush the virus were stymied by the coronavirus pandemic.
The commitments came at a dedicated meeting on polio at the Seventy-first WHO Regional Committee for Africa.
Despite that the African region was declared free of wild poliovirus a year ago following four years without recording a single case, the outbreaks of vaccine-derived poliovirus have continued to spread in communities where only a few children have received the polio vaccine.
As a result of the coronavirus, campaigns and scheduled polio vaccinations were disrupted which led to vaccines not reaching the most important parts of the region. Hence, increased cases of poliovirus were recorded during the year.
“Since 2018, 23 countries in the region have experienced outbreaks and more than half of the global 1071 cases were recorded in Africap”, the World Health Organisation’s Africa region said after a two-day virtual conference on the disease.
The committee discussed implementation strategies to achieve the aim of reducing significantly the cases of poliovirus. Tactics discussed included;
- Improving the speed and quality of outbreak response, including through the rapid deployment of surge staff.
- Further integrating polio campaigns with the delivery of essential health services and routine immunization.
- Broadening the rollout of the novel oral polio vaccine type 2.
According to Togo’s Minister of Health and Public Hygiene and the Chairperson of the Seventy-first session of the Regional Committee for Africa, Hon. Professor Moustafa Mijiyawa, “The poliovirus disregards and defies borders. Its presence anywhere in our region is a threat to all countries. Togo is committed to working with our regional partners and acting with the urgency required to implement high quality polio campaigns and protect children across Africa. With collective action, we will defeat all forms of polio”.
The Regional Committee also discussed how to accelerate the transition of polio infrastructure into countries’ health systems, so that it can continue to support immunization and disease surveillance once polio is eradicated. The polio programme has a history of supporting the response to emerging health threats in the Region, including Ebola and COVID-19, and half of polio surge staff are currently helping countries with COVID-19 surveillance, contact tracing, and community engagement.
According to Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, “Our success in ending wild poliovirus in the region shows what is possible when we work together with urgency. COVID-19 has threatened this triumph as governments worked hard to limit the spread of COVID-19, pausing some campaigns. However, we cannot waver, and with renewed vigour we can overcome the final hurdles that jeopardize our success.”
He continued by saying that the region possesses the know-how to achieve the set goal, however, it has to be backed by committed resources to reach all under-vaccinated communities and ensure that all children thrive in a world free of polio.
The WHO said that despite the disruption, nearly 100 million African children had been vaccinated against polio since July 2020.