Africa declared free of wild polio in ‘milestone’

Africa declared free of wild polio in 'milestone'
Polio can only be prevented through immunisation. ‍Source: AFP
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Daily US Times: The Africa Regional Certification Commission, an independent body, declared Africa is free from wild polio.

The disease usually affects children under five, sometimes leading to irreversible paralysis. Death can happen when breathing muscles are affected.

Thousands of children in Africa were paralysed by the virus twenty years ago.

The disease is now only found in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

There is no cure so far but the polio vaccine protects children for life.

Nigeria is the last country in Africa to be declared free from wild polio, having accounted for more than half of all global cases less than a decade ago.

The vaccination campaign in Nigeria involved a huge effort to reach dangerous and remote places under threat from militant violence and some health workers were killed in the process.

What is polio and has it now been eradicated in Africa?

The disease is a virus which spreads from person to person, usually through contaminated water. The virus can lead to paralysis by attacking the nervous system.

Two out of three strains of wild polio virus have been eradicated from the world. On Tuesday, the African continent is to be declared free of the last remaining strain of wild poliovirus.

More than 95% population of Africa has now been immunised. This was one of the conditions that the Africa Regional Certification Commission set before declaring Africa free from wild polio.

Now only the vaccine-derived polio virus remains in Africa with 177 cases being identified this year.

This is a rare form of the virus that mutates from the oral polio vaccine and can then spread to under-immunised communities.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has identified a number of these cases in Nigeria, Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Angola.

Without a cure a vaccine developed in 1952 by Dr Jonas Salk gave hope the world that children could be protected from the disease. Albert Sabin pioneered the oral polio vaccine in 1961 which has been used in most national immunisation programmes around the world.

Poliovirus paralysed more than 75,000 children across the continent in 1996- every country was affected.

Nelson Mandela launched the “Kick Polio Out of Africa” programme that year, mobilising millions of health workers who went village-to-village to hand-deliver vaccines.

It was backed by a coalition of groups including Rotary International which had spearheaded the polio vaccination drive from the 1980s.

Since 1996 billions of oral polio vaccines have been provided, averting an estimated 1.8 million cases of wild poliovirus.

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