Governments from the World Health Organization (WHO) African Region, have committed to end all remaining forms of polio.
The commitments came at the end of a three-day annual Health Conference where African Health Ministers and other decision makes set their year’s health agenda. While the African Region was certified free of wild poliovirus one year ago following four years without a case, outbreaks of circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus (cVDPV) continue to spread.
cVDPVs occur in communities where not enough children have received the polio vaccine. Uganda is the latest country to record an outbreak with others like Kenya, DR Congo and South Sudan recording cases last year.
WHO says cases increased last year in part because of disruptions to polio vaccination campaigns caused by COVID-19. Since 2018, 23 countries in the region have experienced outbreaks and more than half of the global 1071 cVDPV cases were recorded in Africa.
“As Chair of the African Union, I am determined to work with other countries to protect the gains of our monumental efforts against polio and finish the job against all forms of this disease in Africa. Only then, we will be able to say we delivered on our promise of a safer, healthier future for all our children,” said H.E. Félix Tshisekedi, President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
At the Regional Committee, countries discussed how they will begin implementing the new Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) 2022-2026 Strategy that was launched in June to urgently stop the spread of cVDPVs.
The tools and tactics outlined in the Strategy to stop outbreaks include improving the speed and quality of outbreak response, further integrating polio campaigns with the delivery of essential health services and routine immunization to reach children who have never been vaccinated, help build trust with communities and improve uptake of the polio vaccine.
At the meeting, a scorecard was presented which countries will use to track indicators for implementation of timely, high-quality polio outbreak response and vaccination which ministers committed that they will be regularly reviewing progress together.
“Our success in ending wild poliovirus in the region shows what is possible when we work together with the 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”, said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa in her remarks.
Almost 100 million African children have been vaccinated against polio since July 2020, after activities were paused due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Although, in Uganda, up to 2million children are estimated to have missed polio vaccination against the type 2 virus.