Africa to be declared free of wild polio after decades 

  25 August 2020    Read: 609
Africa to be declared free of wild polio after decades 

Africa will soon be declared free from wild polio by the independent body, the Africa Regional Certification Commission, BBC reports. 

Polio usually affects children under five, sometimes leading to irreversible paralysis. Death can occur when breathing muscles are affected by the paralysis.

There is no cure but the polio vaccine protects children for life.

The disease is now only found in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Nigeria is the last African country to be declared free from the disease, having accounted for more than half of all global cases less than a decade ago.

What is polio and has it now been eradicated in Africa?
Polio is a virus which spreads from person to person, usually through contaminated water. It can lead to paralysis by attacking the nervous system.

Two out of three strains of wild polio virus have been eradicated worldwide. On Tuesday, Africa is to be declared free of the last remaining strain of wild poliovirus.

More than 95% of Africa's population has now been immunised. This was one of the conditions that the Africa Regional Certification Commission set before declaring the continent free from wild polio.

Now only the vaccine-derived polio virus remains in Africa.

This is a rare form of the virus that mutates from the oral polio vaccine and can then spread to under-immunised communities.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has identified a number of these cases in Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic and Angola.

How did Africa eliminate wild polio?
Without a cure a vaccine developed in 1952 by Dr Jonas Salk gave hope that children could be protected from the disease. In 1961, Albert Sabin pioneered the oral polio vaccine which has been used in most national immunisation programmes around the world.

In 1996 poliovirus paralysed more than 75,000 children across the continent - every country was affected.

That year Nelson Mandela launched the "Kick Polio Out of Africa" programme, mobilising millions of health workers who went village-to-village to hand-deliver vaccines.

Since 1996 nine billion oral polio vaccines have been provided, averting an estimated 1.8 million cases of wild poliovirus.


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