This week marks one year since the last wild polio case was detected on the entire African continent, according to a statement from the World Health Organization (WHO).
The milestone signals important progress toward eradication.
In the Horn of Africa, no wild polio cases have been reported since the last case in central Somalia on August 11, 2014.
Nigeria, the last endemic country in the African region, marked one year without a case of wild polio in July 2015. If continued lab results in the coming weeks confirm no new cases in Nigeria, and if the WHO African Region then goes 2 more years without a case of wild polio in the face of strong surveillance, it could be certified polio-free by the Africa Regional Certification Commission.
In a Horn of Africa outbreak assessment completed in June 2015, an assessment team concluded that transmission in Kenya and Ethiopia has also been interrupted. Undetected low level transmission in Somalia cannot be ruled out, the team concluded, and outbreak response activities are continuing throughout the country.
However, Dr. Hamid Jafari, Director of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative at WHO, warns that the work isn’t over yet. “Surveillance for poliovirus has improved considerably. However, in the past we have had year-long periods when we thought the poliovirus had gone from the Horn of Africa and central Africa, only to find out that we were simply missing transmission because our surveillance systems were not strong enough to spot cases.”
To end polio forever in all countries of the world, there are several tasks that still need the commitment of all stakeholders:
- Strengthening acute flaccid paralysis surveillance for 100% detection
- Reaching pockets of under-immunized and un-immunized children
- Continued strengthening of the immunization infrastructure
- Continued leadership from African leaders of state and their institutions
- Ongoing support from international partners
“I am in awe of the governments, partners, community and religious leaders, health workers and volunteers who have brought us so far- and I ask them to keep up the commitment for the hurdles we still have to cross in Africa,” commented Jafari.
A polio-free Africa would leave only 2 countries where polio transmission has never been interrupted: Pakistan and Afghanistan.