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Africa Is Now Polio-Free

BellaNaija.com

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We’ve got great news!

The year 2016 was the last time a case of wild polio was reported in Nigeria, the final country on the 54-nation African continent where the disease was endemic. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has today August 25, declared the entirety of Africa polio-free.

It has not been easy. The vaccination campaign in Nigeria involved a huge effort to reach remote and dangerous places. It’s taken decades and millions of health workers commuting by different means to reach children. Health workers have even braved conflict to prevent children from enduring life-long disability and paralysis.

The job was made easier by the partners Rotary immediately attracted: the WHO, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and UNICEF. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation joined in 2007, followed by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, just last year.

“Today’s victory over the wild poliovirus in the African region is a testament to what can happen when partners from a variety of sectors join forces to accomplish a major global health goal,” says John Hewko, general secretary and CEO of Rotary International. “[It is] something the world can and should aspire to during these turbulent times.”

“The polio eradication program in Nigeria has gone through some difficult times, but I never once doubted that this day would come,” says Tunji Funsho, a former cardiologist who is the chair of Rotary International’s Polio-Plus Committee in Nigeria. “Any time that we’ve experienced a setback, Rotary and our partners have been able to find solutions and develop new strategies for reaching vulnerable children.”

“We must guard this achievement of WPV virus eradication jealously & take all steps to avoid a resurgence of this disease. This will require maintaining the highest quality of disease surveillance & routine immunization,” says President Muhammadu Buhari during a virtual announcement. 

I recall that shortly after assuming office in May 2015, I made a pledge to Nigerians that I would not bequeath a polio-endemic country to my successor. Today’s certification of our Wild Polio-Free status is in fulfilment of that pledge to not only Nigerians but to all Africans.

We must guard this achievement of the eradication of the Wild Polio Virus in Africa jealously and ensure that we take all necessary steps to prevent a resurgence of this disease.

I commend the decades of hard work and resilience of health workers and volunteers across Africa, and Ministers of Health and other stakeholders —political, traditional, religious and community leaders who provided the required support and leadership. Let me also appreciate the invaluable support of our donors, development and local partners: @WHO, @UNICEF, @Rotary, @gatesfoundation, Aliko Dangote Foundation, @CDCgov, @gavi, @USAID, EU, Emeka Offor Foundation, Japanese & German Govts, numerous NGOs & faith-based organizations.

These are truly the heroes and heroines of many battles that have made us triumphant in the war against polio. We must continue to build trust between Government institutions, leaders and citizens so that we can unite as a people and confront the health and socio-economic challenges we face together.

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