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Africa: Opinion – Africa is on the verge of reaching a milestone in the fight against polio, but the struggle remains incomplete

As the world strives to eradicate poliomyelitis, Africa can soon achieve a major breakthrough in efforts to rid the planet of one of the most devastating diseases of all time. The continent’s resilience and determination to stop the virus have overcome complex challenges, and Africa is now on the verge of becoming the next region declared free of wild polio.

Africa marks an important moment this week towards zero: three years since the discovery of the last case of wild poliovirus. This three-year milestone launches a comprehensive assessment process by the African Regional Certification Commission to determine whether the entire African region of the World Health Organization (WHO) can be declared polio-free.

If data at the national level confirms that the wild virus has disappeared, Africa will join four of the six WHO regions – North and South America, Western Pacific, Europe and Southeast Asia – to keep this difference. This will leave only the WHO Eastern Mediterranean region still working to stop the virus.

The path to eradicating polio in Africa is a massive attempt at multinational coordination on an unprecedented scale, delivering vaccines to hundreds of millions of children and conducting immunization campaigns in some of the most remote areas of the world, with vigilance and comprehensive monitoring to monitor outbreaks and people on the move. It involves thousands of men and women who volunteer to volunteer, sometimes endangering themselves.

Nevertheless, although this August marker is a positive sign of progress on the entire continent, our work is not yet complete. We must remain vigilant in our eradication and surveillance efforts: each country must continue to ensure that it closely monitors any signs of the virus and reaches every child with vaccines.

Unfortunately, there is one sign of gaps in Africa – several countries have reported outbreaks of circulating vaccine poliovirus, which occur only in areas where children are not fully immunized. The very methods that stop wild polio will stop this rare form – strong surveillance and vigilant spread of the polio vaccine, and countries across the region have launched a coordinated response.

Stopping the disease was not easy. Some health workers even died. But despite the risk, I am inspired by the ongoing devotion I have seen. Governments, partners, civil society and local communities use proven methods, while remaining innovative to overcome obstacles.

And the progress we have made over the past three years is significant. For example, in Nigeria, poliomyelitis workers carefully mapped the numerous islands of Lake Chad and traveled by canoe for hours to get to hundreds of settlements for the first time. They also deployed a new application-based electronic surveillance system called e-Surve to track the virus to its latest shelters.

These successes would not have been possible without the incredible persistence of countries and partners in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, which mobilized financial and technical resources to carry out the work.

To write the final chapter in this unfinished success story, we must remain committed to enhancing immunity, disease surveillance, and outbreak preparedness. While countries in the region are facing other health problems and emergencies, such as Ebola and measles outbreaks, we must not lose sight of how joint efforts to strengthen health systems and maintain confidence in vaccination will provide the best protection for all children from preventable diseases. diseases.

Africa has teamed up against polio – we can do it again. A little over 20 years ago, Nelson Mandela first called for the creation of an polio-free Africa. During this year, in 1996, wild polio paralyzed more than 75,000 children across the continent.

Mandela's call was heard. Africans come together with political leaders, traditional and religious leaders, leading healthcare professionals, partners, donors and, most importantly, parents – all come together to find and vaccinate every child to protect him from polio.

On the verge of reaching a polio-free planet, let's listen again to Nelson Mandela. Let's reunite once and for all get rid of polio!

Matsidiso Moeti, Regional Director of the World Health Organization for Africa.

Any views expressed in this article are those of the author, not the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

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