Eliminating Polio Will Erase Too Many Tragedy – Global Issues

A Pakistani child receives a dose of oral polio vaccine (OPV).  Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai / IPS
A Pakistani child receives a dose of oral polio vaccine (OPV). Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai / IPS
  • Idea by Matshidiso Moeti (brazzaville)
  • Joint press service
  • Dr. Matshidiso Moeti is the World Health Organization’s Regional Director for Africa.

In Africa’s public health community, we have looked at our successes against wild poliovirus as a reason for optimism. During the 1990s, the disease crippled more than 75,000 African children each year. But after extensive vaccination campaigns and close monitoring, the wild polio virus was officially eliminated from sub-Saharan Africa less than two years ago.

We went from 300,000 cases in 1985 to zero in 2020, just like the COVID-19 pandemic did. In Malawi, there have been no cases of wild polio since 1992, and for many, the disease has become a distant memory.

Polio is a viral infection that causes nerve damage and, in some cases, paralysis that can lead to permanent disability or even death. It’s transmitted mainly through contaminated water or food, and its symptoms – fever, sore throat, headache, and sore hands and feet – are so general that an active infection is often difficult to diagnose. until paralyzed.

While polio is still endemic in Afghanistan and Pakistan, with several dozen cases identified each year in each country, polio has been eliminated in most other places. The Americas were declared polio-free in 1994; China, Australia and Western Pacific countries in 2000, Europe in 2002; and Southeast Asia in 2011. The last cases in Africa were in Nigeria, in 2016, in the north of the country where the horrors of armed conflict have seen vaccination efforts yet to be conducted. .

But over the past two years, the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted efforts to combat vaccine-preventable diseases, including polio, elsewhere. The cessation of four-month polio vaccination campaigns in more than 30 countries by 2020, along with related disruptions to essential immunization services, has resulted in tens of millions of children missing polio vaccine. Among them is a three-year-old girl from Malawi who is now paralyzed for life.

We now know a lot about the wild polio virus, enough to trace the case in Malawi with a strain of the virus that originated in Pakistan. While this new finding doesn’t affect the African region’s certified wild polio virus-free status, it does set the world back on its way to eradicating the disease.

And if transmissions are not stopped within the next 12 months, the continent’s certification status may be subject to a review. This disease has created too much havoc, on an individual and health system level, for us to allow that to happen.

We were able to detect the presence of the virus, along with its genetic origin, through urban sewer sampling – and so we launched surveillance efforts in Lilongwe and its cities. cities in neighboring countries. We have also deployed health workers door-to-door in Malawi, identifying families with children with unexplained paralysis and taking samples for testing to see if polio is the cause.

With support from international and local partners, governments in the region have now launched an intensive vaccination campaign, with the aim of immunizing more than 23 million children in Malawi and neighboring countries. Tanzania, Zambia and Mozambique, as well as Zimbabwe.

Vaccines require multiple doses, so the logistics of reaching both urban and rural areas, with trained staff carrying a sufficient number of doses, must be well planned and executed. Fortunately, we are benefiting from lessons learned in Syria and Somalia in recent years, where the polio program has rapidly halted the spread of imported wild poliovirus, despite challenges posed by ongoing conflict and insecurity.

It is no coincidence that the Africa Region achieved wild polio-free status two years ago. This is only possible because governments, communities and partners have been committed for decades, and we are now leveraging the extensive experience and expertise we have built in the region to rapidly control control this outbreak.

The result is great. Globally, eradication efforts have saved an estimated number of lives 180,000 people and an estimated 1.8 million children without disabilities. Economic benefits to ending polio were projected at a higher level than that of the United States$50 billion by 2035with most of these benefits accrued to low-income countries liberated from having to deal with such a dire health threat.

Of course, eliminating polio is more than just an economic stimulus. We do it because it is a source of suffering that we can remove from this world, because every child paralyzed by a polio infection is one child too much. Wild poliovirus infections around the world are at an all-time low, and we have a historic chance to stop transmission of the virus in a good way.

To achieve this, we need governments across Africa – especially the countries of the south – to join these efforts, increase surveillance, vaccinate their children and get back on track. to wipe this virus off the planet.

© Inter Press Service (2022) – All rights reservedOrigin: Inter Press Service

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