Nigeria and the rest of Africa have been declared free from wild polio by the independent body, the Africa Regional Certification Commission, (ARCC).
“Today is a historic day for Africa. The African Regional Certification Commission for Polio eradication (ARCC) is pleased to announce that the Region has successfully met the certification criteria for wild polio eradication, with no cases of the wild poliovirus reported in the Region for four years,” Rose Leke, ARCC Chairperson, said.
The ARCC’s decision comes after an exhaustive, decades-long process of documentation and analysis of polio surveillance, immunization and laboratory capacity of the region’s 47 member states, which included conducting field verification visits to each country.
In 1996, African heads of state committed to eradicate polio during the Thirty-Second Ordinary Session of the Organization of African Unity in Yaoundé, Cameroon.
At the time, polio was said to be paralysing an estimated 75,000 children, annually, on the African continent.
In the same year, Nelson Mandela with the support of Rotary International jumpstarted Africa’s commitment to polio eradication with the launch of the Kick Polio Out of Africa campaign.
Mandela’s call mobilized African nations and leaders across the continent to step up their efforts to reach every child with polio vaccine.
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.
“This is a momentous milestone for Africa. Now future generations of African children can live free of wild polio,” Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa, said.
Polio usually affects children under five, sometimes leading to irreversible paralysis. Death can occur when breathing muscles are affected.
Twenty-five years ago thousands of children in Africa were paralysed by the virus.
The disease is now only found in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
There is no cure but the polio vaccine protects children for life.
Nigeria is the last African country to be declared free from wild polio, having accounted for more than half of all global cases less than a decade ago.