The World Health Organisation (WHO) certified Nigeria and the Africa region free of Wild Polio Virus following approval from the Independent Africa Regional Certification Commission (ARCC).
The international health agency said the decision was reached after a decade-long process of documentation and analysis of progress made.
“African Region is officially declared free of wild polio! Congratulations to all countries, partners & health workers,” WHO tweeted on Tuesday.
Nigeria is the last country in Africa to achieve this milestone. This means the continent is now polio-free.
This is a remarkable breakthrough considering the fact that seven years ago, the country had accounted for more than half of all polio cases worldwide, according to the WHO.
Poliomyelitis (polio) is a highly infectious viral disease, which mainly affects young children. It is transmitted by person-to-person spread mainly through the faecal-oral route or, through contaminated water or food and multiplies in the intestine, from where it can invade the nervous system and can cause paralysis.
With no new cases for three consecutive years, Nigeria became eligible to be certified free of polio in August 2019. This is the requisite period for any country to be certified polio-free.
This leaves Afghanistan and Pakistan as the only countries yet to be certified polio free.
In a statement made available to PREMIUM TIMES, ARCC Chairperson, Rose Gana, said the decision to declare the region polio free comes after meeting the certification criteria.
“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.
“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,” she said.
WHO Regional Director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, also described the achievement as a momentous milestone adding that future generations of African children can now live free of the wild polio virus.
“This historic achievement was only possible thanks to the leadership and commitment of governments, communities, global polio eradication partners and philanthropists.
“I pay special tribute to the frontline health workers and vaccinators, some of whom lost their lives, for this noble cause,” she said
She urged Africa leaders to “stay vigilant and keep up vaccination rates to avert a resurgence of the wild poliovirus and address the continued threat of the vaccine-derived polio.”
In his remarks, the coordinator, WHO Polio Eradication Programme in the African region, Pascal Mkanda, said Africa has demonstrated that “despite weak health systems, African countries have collaborated very effectively in eradicating wild polio virus”.
“With the innovations and expertise that the polio programme has established, I am confident that we can sustain the gains, post-certification, and eliminate cVDPV2.”