In 1996, poliovirus paralysed more than 75,000 children across the continent, in every single country. That year, Nelson Mandela launched ‘Kick Polio Out of Africa’, marking the launch of a unique, cross-sectoral and cross-continental movement to protect all children from paralysis.
Millions of health workers, often operating in difficult or dangerous conditions, have since worked tirelessly to reach and vaccinate all children and protect them from this entirely preventable disease. Between countries, cross-border collaboration and the implementation of synchronized immunization campaigns has reduced the chance of virus spread. Health workers are not only protecting children from poliovirus, but are also paving the way for other health programmes to reach the world’s most vulnerable children. Thanks to their work, poliovirus has been beaten back to its lowest ever levels across the continent. As of March 2018 there have been no cases of wild poliovirus type 1 reported in any country in the African Region for over one and half years.
A polio-free Africa will also be testimony to the efforts of donors and the Global Polio Eradication Initiative partners. In particular, Rotarians are truly inspirational advocates for a polio-free world, raising hundreds of millions of dollars, and volunteering countless hours to eradicate polio across the whole African region, and the globe.
However, the threat still remains. Over the last 30 years, time and time again, poliovirus has spread across west, central and the Horn of Africa. Until the whole region is certified poliovirus free, every country must remain vigilant.
To finish the disease in Africa once and for all, it is crucial for all countries to continue to take steps to reach all children with vaccines, strengthen surveillance, and stay fully committed at all levels to ending polio. It is also essential to maintain financial commitments.
On the verge of one of the greatest public health achievements in history, the certification of Africa as poliovirus free will be testimony to the efforts of hundreds of thousands of people living in the region.