Four years after its last recorded outbreak, the continent of Africa has been declared free of wild polio by the independent Africa Regional Certification Commission. The announcement came after a year of evaluating data from all 47 countries on the continent, and marks the eradication of a disease that only 25 years used to cripple tens of thousands of children across the continent. It was hailed by World Health Organisation (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus as ‘one of the greatest achievements in public health history’, which would ‘leave behind a legacy in how to tackle diseases and reach the poorest and most marginalised communities with lifesaving services’.
Polio is a virus spread by contaminated water, and usually affects children under five, often leading to irreversible paralysis. It can be fatal if respiratory muscles are affected. There is no cure, but the polio vaccine will provide protection for life.
The success is the culmination of a strategy launched by the late South African leader Nelson Mandela in 1996 called, Kick Polio out of Africa. Since then, billions of doses of the vaccine have been delivered across the continent and 95% of Africa’s population have been immunised. This latest success leaves Afghanistan and Pakistan as the last two countries in the world where wild polio has yet to be eradicated.