Africa has gone three years without a case of wild polio being detected, the World Health Organization said on Wednesday, a significant milestone in the quest to eradicate the disease.
The continent’s last case of polio caused by the wild virus was detected on 21 August 2016 in Nigeria. Africa is expected to be certified free of wild polio by early next year following an independent evaluation process, however vaccine-derived cases of the disease still pose a challenge.
“We are confident that very soon we will be back here trumpeting the certification that countries have, once and for all, kicked polio out of Africa,” said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti,
Moeti attributed present progress to an “unprecedented scale” of multinational effort by governments, partners, and health workers, who have deployed financial and technical resources to provide vaccination and education, especially in remote areas.
“It has involved men and women volunteering in the thousands, sometimes putting themselves in harm’s way,” Moeti said.
Once Africa is declared free of the disease, five of the WHO’s six regions will be free of wild polio. Only what the WHO calls the Eastern Mediterranean is still fighting the disease, with polio still endemic in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Wild vs vaccine-derived polio
Cases due to the wild poliovirus found in nature have decreased by more than 99% since 1988, from an estimated 350,000 cases then, to 33 reported cases in 2018, according to the WHO.