Africa is on the verge of eradicating polio if the current momentum is sustained through improved surveillance, vaccination and public awareness, a WHO official said on Tuesday.
WHO Regional Director for Africa Matshidiso Moeti said the majority of African countries are likely to be declared polio free by 2019 if they step up prevention of and treatment interventions for the disease.
“The African region had made tremendous progress towards polio eradication, from accounting for almost half of the global polio burden with 128 cases in 2012, to four cases in 2016,” Moeti said in a statement released in Nairobi.
She warned that complacency may trigger new infections in remote corners of the African continent where surveillance is weak.
Africa witnessed a recurrence of polio in 2016 when four cases were recorded in northern Nigeria, where the risks of an outbreak are higher due to insecurity and unregulated cross-border movement.
Moeti noted that timely response that included vaccination of children coupled with public education on improved hygiene options averted deaths in northern Nigeria and a large swathe of Lake Chad basin.
“In an example of best practice, political and community leaders were engaged to ensure the success of the largest ever polio campaign in Africa.
“Over 190,000 polio vaccinators simultaneously immunized more than 116 million children under five in 13 countries in coordinated effort in west and central Africa,” said Moeti.
She noted that African countries that are prone to polio outbreaks are yet to put in place globally recognised surveillance measures while insecurity and poverty could worsen their vulnerability to the disease.
Moeti said: “as a region, our surveillance efforts are presently not meeting the mark. A number of countries have sub-optimal surveillance in both secure and insecure areas.
“They should recommit to strengthen surveillance urgently.”
In January, African leaders endorsed a comprehensive pact to promote immunization against debilitating diseases like polio.
Moeti said the international community will rally behind African-led interventions aimed at eradicating polio by 2019.