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African countries commit to ending all forms of polio

Governments from the World Health Organization (WHO) African Region have committed to ending all remaining forms of polio and presented a scorecard to track progress towards the eradication of the virus. The commitments came at a dedicated meeting on polio at the Seventy-first WHO Regional Committee for Africa.

While the African Region was certified free of wild poliovirus one year ago following four years without a case, outbreaks of circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus (cVDPV) continue to spread. cVDPVs occur in communities where not enough children have received the polio vaccine. Cases increased last year in part because of disruptions to polio vaccination campaigns caused by COVID-19. Since 2018, 23 countries in the region have experienced outbreaks and more than half of the global 1071 cVDPV cases were recorded in Africa.

“As Chair of the African Union, I am determined to work with other countries to protect the gains of our monumental efforts against polio and finish the job against all forms of this disease in Africa. Only then, we will be able to say we delivered on our promise of a safer, healthier future for all our children,” said H.E. Félix Tshisekedi, President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

At the Regional Committee, countries discussed how they will begin implementing the new Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) 2022-2026 Strategy that was launched in June to urgently stop the spread of cVDPVs. The tools and tactics outlined in the Strategy to stop outbreaks include:

  • Improving the speed and quality of outbreak response, including through the rapid deployment of surge staff from the WHO Regional Office for Africa to support countries as soon as outbreaks are detected.
  • Further integrating polio campaigns with the delivery of essential health services and routine immunization to reach children who have never been vaccinated, help build trust with communities and improve uptake of the polio vaccine.
  • Broadening the rollout of the novel oral polio vaccine type 2 (nOPV2), a new tool that could more sustainably end outbreaks of type 2 cVDPV, which are the most prevalent. To date, six countries in Africa have rolled out the vaccine with close to 40 million children vaccinated and no concerns noted for safety.
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“The poliovirus disregards and defies borders. Its presence anywhere in our region is a threat to all countries. Togo is committed to working with our regional partners and acting with the urgency required to implement high quality polio campaigns and protect children across Africa. With collective action, we will defeat all forms of polio,” said Hon Professor Moustafa Mijiyawa, Togo’s Minister of Health and Public Hygiene and Universal Access to Health Care and the Chairperson of the Seventy-first session of the Regional Committee for Africa.

The scorecard presented at the Regional Committee will track indicators for implementation of timely, high-quality polio outbreak response, readiness to introduce nOPV2 as the new vaccine becomes eligible for broader use, strengthening routine immunization to close immunity gaps, and transitioning polio assets into national health systems in a strategic, phased approach. Ministers committed to regularly reviewing progress together on each of these indicators to ensure collective success in urgently finishing the job on polio and securing a polio-free future for every child across the region. 

“Our success in ending wild poliovirus in the region shows what is possible when we work together with urgency. COVID-19 has threatened this triumph as governments worked hard to limit the spread of COVID-19, pausing some campaigns. However, we cannot waver, and with renewed vigour we can overcome the final hurdles that jeopardize our success. We have the know-how, but it must be backed by committed resources to reach all under-vaccinated communities and ensure that all children thrive in a world free of polio. Together, we can help the world achieve polio eradication,”saidDr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.

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Almost 100 million African children have been vaccinated against polio since July 2020, after activities were paused due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Regional Committee also discussed how to accelerate the transition of polio infrastructure into countries’ health systems, so that it can continue to support immunization and disease surveillance once polio is eradicated. The polio programme has a history of supporting the response to emerging health threats in the Region, including Ebola and COVID-19, and half of polio surge staff are currently helping countries with COVID-19 surveillance, contact tracing and community engagement.

“We need increased political and financial commitment by governments and partners to walk the last mile towards ending all forms of polio,” said Dr Tunji Funsho, chair of Rotary’s National PolioPlus Committee, Nigeria. “We must reach more children faster and comprehensively to not only curb outbreaks swiftly, but to also scale up vaccination coverage and give children lasting protection against this preventable disease.”

Dr Moeti spoke during a virtual press conference today facilitated by APO Group. She was joined by Hon Professor Moustafa Mijiyawa and Dr Tunji Funsho. Also on hand to respond to questions were Dr Pascal Mkanda, Coordinator, Polio Eradication Programme, WHO Regional Office for Africa; Dr Richard Mihigo, Coordinator, Immunization and Vaccines Development Programme, WHO Regional Office for Africa; and Dr Thierno Balde, Team Leader, Operational Partnerships, WHO Regional Office for Africa.

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