As the African region marks one year since the last confirmed detection of wild poliovirus type 1, Ministers of Health and other health leaders gathering for the Seventy-third session of the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Committee for Africa today pledged to intensify efforts to end all forms of the virus.
The region’s last confirmed case of wild poliovirus, linked to a strain circulating in Pakistan, was reported in August 2022 in Mozambique’s Tete province. A total of nine cases were detected in both Mozambique and neighbouring Malawi, where an outbreak was confirmed in February 2022. In a coordinated response, more than 45 million children across five southern Africa countries were vaccinated against the virus.
The health leaders underscored the pivotal role of enhanced polio surveillance, high quality vaccination campaigns, timely outbreak response, including rapid deployment of experts and other field responders to curb the virus, as well as working with communities through strong outreach and mobilization efforts for successful vaccination drives.
The detection of wild poliovirus in 2022 does not alter the certification of the African region as free of indigenous wild polio, as the strain that was confirmed in southern Africa was imported.
“One year without wild polio detection reflects the great effort by countries and partner organizations to halt this virus. But until we reach every child and ensure adequate vaccine coverage and protection, the fight is not over,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa. “WHO remains committed to supporting national efforts to address all the challenges towards a polio-free Africa.”
Although the region has been certified free of wild poliovirus, it is witnessing a resurgence of circulating variant polioviruses in areas where the virus has not been reported for decades due to a decline in immunization coverage and the disruption by the COVID-19 pandemic on essential health services. However, outbreak response has been accelerated over the past year to protect children against the virus as well as step up the progress towards ending all forms of polio in the region.
At least 21 countries have carried out vaccination campaigns against outbreaks of variant poliovirus type 2 using the novel poliovirus vaccine (nOPV2) since March 2021. In 80% of countries where the nOPV2 vaccine was used, no further transmission of variant poliovirus type 2 has been reported after three immunization rounds.
So far this year, 187 confirmed cases of circulating variant poliovirus have been reported in 21 countries in the African Region.
WHO is supporting countries to scale up the efforts to protect children in high-risk areas where the virus may be circulating by improving the speed and quality of polio response measures. capacity providing technical support, as well as strengthening surveillance and data and information management.
In May 2023, the Emergency Committee – a WHO expert advisory group – agreed that the risk of international spread of poliovirus remains the only public health emergency of international concern currently.
Global polio eradication efforts have immensely reduced cases. More than 350 000 children around the world were being paralysed by the virus every year in 1988 when the global polio eradication drive began. Since 2001, fewer than 2000 cases are being detected every year globally.
Polio has no cure and can cause irreversible paralysis. However, the disease can be prevented through administration of a safe, simple and effective vaccine.