By Asmau Ahmad
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has said that the global effort to end polio has achieved a more than 99.9 per cent decrease in polio cases since 1988.
The WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, who disclosed this in a message to mark the 2022 World Polio Day said 20 million children have been spared disability and are walking.
World Polio Day is marked annually on October 24, providing an opportunity to highlight global efforts toward a polio-free world, and to honour the unwavering commitment of those on the frontlines of the fight to eradicate polio.
The theme for this year, “World Polio Day 2022 and Beyond: A healthier future for mothers and children,” kicked off with discussions in Geneva between WHO, Rotary International and polio experts, to consider future efforts to continue the decades-long collaboration against polio.
Dr Moeti said, “Since the landmark resolution for the worldwide eradication of polio was adopted in 1988 at the 41st World Health Assembly, global efforts have achieved a more than 99.9 per cent decrease in polio cases.
As many as 20 million children have been spared disability and are walking today. Two of the three strains of wild poliovirus (Type 2 and Type 3) have been certified as eradicated, and in 2020 the African Region was certified as free of indigenous wild polio.
“This progress is admirable and has safeguarded millions of children and their families from this crippling virus. However, detections of new outbreaks, including in areas where polio was believed to have been eradicated, is a stark reminder that if we do not deliver on our promise to eradicate all forms of polio, everywhere, no child is safe anywhere.
“The Global Polio Eradication Initiative’s 2022-2026 Strategy to end polio lays out the pathway to finish this last mile. The significant global commitment to fund the strategy, at the 2022 World Health Summit polio pledging event earlier this month, was extremely encouraging.
“In a show of global solidarity, the host country Germany, along with 15 other countries, as well as charities, international organisations, and numerous private sector initiatives, committed more than US$ 2.6 billion to the strategy – more than half the total target.
“With this renewed financial commitment, we now have a critical opportunity to ramp up eradication efforts. For the African Region, this means improved surveillance and high-quality immunisation campaigns targeting zero-dose children for vaccination against all polio strains.”
The UN body noted that at the end of the first quarter of 2022, WHO announced the successful closure of 32 outbreaks in 10 countries.
However, it said, there are ongoing outbreaks that demand vigilance.
“This is critical for Africa to stamp out new cases of wild polio, as well as to safeguard our wild polio-free certification status.
“According to the most updated statistics for the continent, more than 250 cases of paralysis from polio have been recorded this year. That is 250 too many.
“To halt outbreaks of the circulating polio variant, 500 million vaccine doses have been administered globally, 95 per cent of these in Africa.
“Following two immunisation rounds, no further transmission has been seen. The polio response has also prompted innovative digital technologies to identify, track and best deliver vaccines, especially to those in hard-to-reach areas.
“Our endeavours to deliver a polio-free world are also helping strengthen the greater public health system, boosting the overall response to other health threats and emergencies.
“The polio structure has been instrumental in supporting surveillance and the COVID-19 vaccine rollout globally, also increasing the efficiency of the Region’s emergency responses to diseases including measles and cholera.
“Going forward, it is critical that we continue to advance our polio transition plans in tandem with eradication efforts, in order to best leverage our limited public health resources.
“On World Polio Day today, I take this opportunity to sincerely thank all the dedicated health workers who are delivering on the polio promise, going door-to-door to administer vaccines in often challenging circumstances, to safeguard every eligible child.
‘Let us continue to support one another as we accelerate efforts in Africa, and globally, to end polio once and for all,” she said.