Five out of six World Health Organization regions are now wild polio-free
Rotary (www.Rotary.org) and its partners in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) have announced an historic public health achievement as the World Health Organization’s African region is now certified wild poliovirus-free.
The milestone comes four years after Nigeria – the last polio-endemic country in Africa – recorded its final case of wild poliovirus following decades of effort from GPEI partners, local and national leaders, and health workers throughout the African region. Over the course of the effort, 9 billion doses of oral polio vaccine have been administered, hundreds of millions of children have been immunized, and 1.8 million cases of wild poliovirus have been averted throughout the region.
The announcement, delivered Tuesday, August 25, is in part a result of the cumulative actions of Rotary and its members, who have contributed nearly US$890 million—and countless volunteer hours—to eliminate polio in the African region.
“In the face of a pandemic, the world has had very little good news to celebrate in global health this year, and the challenges ahead are formidable,” said Rotary International President Holger Knaack. “That is why we must recognize this great achievement and commend all of the people who played important roles in eradicating wild polio in the African region. It took tremendous effort and partnership over many years. I’m particularly grateful for the Rotary members throughout Africa and around the world who have dedicated themselves to making polio a disease of the past.”
The road to the African region’s wild poliovirus-free certification has been paved by the dedication of health workers—mainly women—who traveled by every form of transportation imaginable to reach children with the polio vaccine; those who found solutions for reaching children in regions rife with conflict and insecurity; those leading surveillance activities to test cases of paralysis and check sewage for the virus, and the leadership of all 47 countries in the African region.
“We have been painstakingly working toward this day since 1996, when Rotary and its GPEI partners first joined with Nelson Mandela to mobilize leaders across the continent to commit to reaching every child with the polio vaccine,” said Dr. Tunji Funsho, chair of Rotary’s Nigeria National PolioPlus Committee. “We still have important work to do, but this achievement shows that with collaboration, and political and financial support, the global eradication of polio is possible.”
Polio vaccination efforts throughout the African region must continue, and routine immunization must be strengthened to keep immunity levels high so the wild poliovirus does not return and to protect children against rare occurrences of circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus. The wild virus continues to circulate in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and as long as it circulates anywhere, all children are at risk.
Rotary’s nearly 32,000 members in Africa have played a critical role in helping the region achieve its wild polio-free status by holding events to raise funds and awareness for polio, and working with world governments and national and local leaders to secure funding and support for polio eradication. Rotary members around the world have donated their time and money to supporting polio eradication, the organization’s top priority.