Eradicating Polio in the African Region: 2011 Annual Report

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Polio eradication remains one of the top priorities for WHO in the African Region. Efforts to eradicate polio began in 1988 with the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI). At that time, polio paralyzed nearly 1000 children every day. As a result of massive efforts from national governments, coupled with significant technical and financial support of international partners, wild poliovirus (WPV) cases have fallen by 99%. At the end 2011, the total number of reported WPV cases was half of that reported in 2010, with 54% recorded in the African Region. Of the 12 countries that experienced importation of WPV in 2011, 11 successfully interrupted transmission within 6 months.

Many challenges remain. A number of countries reported an increase in both the number and the geographic distribution of WPV cases. Political challenges, including elections, hindered campaigns. Furthermore, there was acute insecurity in some areas including the bomb attack on the UN offices in Abuja in August 2011, which temporarily but seriously affected operations in northern Nigeria. In addition, the sheer volume of GPEI activities contributed to managerial challenges in maintaining the quality of scaled-up activities, while weak health systems negatively affected the immunization support systems.

As we address these issues moving forward, we will not only ensure progress towards eradication of polio but also increase the capacity of countries to address long-term health goals. In August 2011, the Sixty-first session of the WHO Regional Committee for Africa by its Resolution AFR/RC61/R4 declared polio a public health emergency. In January 2012, the WHO Executive Board declared polio a programmatic emergency for global public health. The emergency response framework has allowed for the leveraging of additional resources and improved their mobilization. Angola, Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Nigeria, among others, witnessed renewed political commitment and allocated more resources for polio activities within their respective countries. Partnerships with Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Rotary International and UNICEF continued to be strengthened. Without their ongoing support, and the dedication of many national officials and programmes, the drive to defeat polio would be seriously jeopardized.

This report sets forth some achievements made in 2011 in the African Region including supplementary immunization activities, efforts to enhance surveillance, routine immunization and strengthening health systems in general. Several strategic adjustments to the GPEI at both global and regional levels as well as the additional resources deployed in the latter part of 2011 have contributed to country efforts towards interruption of polio. Through the engagement of civil society and community partners at all levels, especially the ground level, we can give polio eradication the final push.