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WHO declares Africa polio free, Salone celebrates

August 26, 2020

Sierra Leone to launch 5-year health plan | Politico SL
Dr Alpha Tejan Wurie, Minister of Health and Sanitation

Sierra Leone yesterday celebrated a strategic landmark public health achievement in Africa as the continent was certified by the World Health Organization, to be free of wild poliovirus transmission, a joint press release states.

The above announcement, according to the release, was made at the virtual session of the 70th Regional Committee for Africa, which is the Organization’s highest decision-making body on health policy in Africa. The Committee comprises of Ministers of Health from each of the 47 WHO Member States in the Region.

The release continues that Sierra Leone has made great progress in fighting polio and that the country reported its last confirmed wild polio case in 2010 and has since built improved national structures, tools and capacity to strengthen surveillance of the disease including at community levels.

“What we are celebrating today as a people has been a continent-wide commitment and dedication by frontline health workers, caregivers and African leaders, local governments and our community leaders, along with the strong support of our international partners. It has been a people’s agenda and we are proud as a country to have made significant contributions to this great achievement”, says Dr Alpha Tejan Wurie, Minister of Health and Sanitation.

It states that wild poliovirus is the second disease to be eradicated on the African continent after smallpox in 1980 and that the last case of smallpox was reported in Somalia in 1977.

It observes that in Sierra Leone, the wild poliovirus is the third disease to be eradicated after smallpox and Yaws.

 “Today’s milestone has been a long arduous journey. Many years ago, when everyday more than 1000 cases of polio were recorded globally, the thought of reaching this stage in the fight against the disease was farfetched. However, today’s event is evidence of the fact that immunization campaigns and strong routine services are important first steps of protection against preventable diseases”, says Evans Liyosi, WHO Representative in Sierra Leone.

“We feel particularly proud that we are celebrating this day in our own lifetime. However, we have a long and critical transition ahead of us as the virus is still in circulation in at least two countries in the world. That requires us to continue surveillance and to vaccinate our children against the disease until polio is completely eradicated from every country”.

The Sierra Leone government’s commitment,it states, has been strong as demonstrated by the establishment of robust national disease surveillance system, and strategic leadership of the Ministry of Health and Sanitation in organizing national and subnational polio immunization campaigns and routine immunization services, some of which were synchronized with other sister countries in the region and supported by Gavi, WHO, UNICEF, Rotary International and other development partners.

“Collaborating with Rotary International, the United Nations through WHO and UNICEF are the main traditional funders of Polio Eradication in Sierra Leone. These agencies are supporting functionality of surveillance activities at all levels (provided vehicles, motors bikes, computers, office running cost, allowances to national and district staffs, etc). The agencies have provided technical support in the establishment of the National Surveillance Programme, development of national guidelines, strategies and tools.”

“Sierra Leone has a strong disease surveillance system left behind by Polio Eradication with the ability to respond to any outbreak and eradicate some neglected tropical diseases such as  Guinea worm, Elephantiasis, River blindness and possibly Trachoma by 2030” Dr Wurie concluded.

Polio disease is highly debilitating and paralyzes its victims for life with resultant lifelong challenges and the inability to attain life’s full potentials. Severe forms of the disease can lead to death. Vaccination is the safest means of prevention against the disease.

The Global Polio Eradication Initiative was launched in 1988 spearheaded by national governments around the world, WHO, Rotary International, CDC-USA, UNICEF, and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.

The last case of wild poliovirus in Africa was reported from Nigeria in 2016. Since then, no new case of the disease has been reported in the region.  The wild polio Free Certification the continent gained today is an important step towards the global eradication effort against the. To date, only two countries, Pakistan and Afghanistan, still have wild polio Virus in the world.