Efforts to stop wild polio in Africa have contributed to the continent being officially declared free from the disease, which can kill or maim children for life.
The announcement by the World Health Organization (WHO) follows no new cases of the virus strain being registered across the continent for four years. Wild polio was previously the predominant cause of the disease and the vaccine protects individuals against this form of the virus. Just 25 years ago the disease was paralyzing an estimated 75,000 children a year in Africa.
The UK is one of the top donors to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), which has vaccinated millions of children against the disease in the world’s poorest countries. As a result of their work, more than 18 million people are able to walk who would otherwise have been paralyzed by the virus.
Last year, the UK committed funding to vaccinate more than 400 million children against the disease across the world every year until 2023. It will save an estimated 650,000 children from life-long paralysis every year and support over 20 million staff and volunteers worldwide to deliver vaccination and broader health services to communities for those affected by the disease.
The funding will help provide large scale immunizations for children in high-risk countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan, where wild polio yet to be eradicated. It will also support work across Africa where there have been increasing outbreaks of vaccine-derived poliovirus which continue to paralyze children.
August 2019 marked three consecutive years since Nigeria, the last African country with wild polio, had a case of wild poliovirus. Since then the Africa Regional Certification Commission for Polio Eradication, an independent body of experts, has reviewed data from across the continent, concluding in today’s announcement.
Pakistan and Afghanistan are now the only two countries with endemic polio. Vaccination campaigns in both countries have now resumed after being paused during coronavirus lockdowns. Until the wild strain is eliminated in every country, there is a risk it could spread across borders and proliferate again.