Polio is a virus that for decades many continents across the globe have merged efforts hoping to eliminate. However, Africa was among the most affected continents, but with the coming of the vaccine, it is now polio-free.
It is both victorious and joyous moment for the continent following the great success of combating the virus. The African Regional Certification Commission for Eradication of Polio announced during a WHO event that Africa was polio-free. WHO confirmed that 47 African member states of the organization had eradicated the virus.
What is Polio?
Polio is a disease caused by a virus. The virus can spread from one person to another through contaminated water and food. Infants usually below five years are most susceptible to the disease.
The virus is life-threatening because when it becomes fatal it can lead to death or paralysis. Death occurs when it affects the breathing muscles of an infected person. However, paralysis arises when the virus infects a person’s spinal cord.
Eradication of Polio
In 1952, Dr. Jonas Salk restored hope after developing a vaccine for the virus since there was no cure. In 1961, Albert Sabin initiated the oral polio vaccine that most immunization programs have used globally.
Battle against wild polio has been ongoing for years in Africa. In the past 2 decades, Africa was the leading continent, recording half of the total polio cases across the globe. In 1996 when the virus paralyzed over 75000 children in Africa, leaders like Nelson Mandela endorsed the program “Kick Polio Out of Africa”. Later, many coalition groups that included Rotary International patronaged the program creating more awareness in the continent.
Tedros and Holger Knaack, president of Rotary International, wrote:
“Delivering polio vaccines to every child in the African region and wiping out the wild virus is no small feat. The human resources, skills, and experience gained in the process leave behind a legacy in how to tackle diseases and reach the poorest and most marginalized communities with lifesaving services,”
The virus was crippling many children, especially in Nigeria. Therefore, the African Regional Certification Commission for Eradication of Polio started campaigns to battle it.
During these campaigns, the advocates targeted remote and violence-prone regions. They mobilized health workers to go to villages and administer the vaccines to children who were not immunized. Although the disease has no cure, the vaccine has managed to keep children safe. Currently, over 95% of the populations in Africa are immunized.
Insurgency is one of the challenges in Nigeria. Health workers found it difficult to reach the violence-prone regions in Borno state. Islamist extremists have always attacked civilians living in this region. As such a frustrating setback for the country, hence children from these areas were not receiving the vaccination.
Rumors and misinformation about the vaccine have also sabotaged the immunization process. For instance, in 2003, in Kano state in Nigeria, the residents suspended all immunization processes. This was after thinking that the Americans had contaminated the vaccine with anti-fertility agents to prevent Muslim women from being fertile.