Posted by Paul Stromburg on Aug 26, 2020

The World Health Organization (WHO) on 25 August announced that transmission of the wild poliovirus has officially been stopped in all 47 countries of its African region. This is a historic and vital step toward global eradication of polio, which is Rotary’s top priority.

The last cases of polio caused by the wild virus in the African region were recorded in Nigeria’s northern state of Borno in August 2016, after two years with no cases. Conflict, along with challenges in reaching mobile populations, had hampered efforts to immunize children there

Now that the African region is free of wild poliovirus, five of WHO’s six regions, representing more than 90 percent of the world’s population, are now free of the disease. Polio caused by the wild virus is still endemic in Afghanistan and Pakistan, in the WHO’s Eastern Mediterranean region. 

Not detecting any wild poliovirus in Africa is in stark contrast to the situation in 1996, when 75,000 children there were paralyzed by the disease. That year, at a meeting of the Organization of African Unity in Cameroon, African heads of state committed to eradicating the disease from the continent. 

To bolster the effort, also in 1996, Rotary, its GPEI partners, and South African President Nelson Mandela launched the Kick Polio Out of Africa campaign. Using soccer matches and celebrity endorsements, the campaign raised awareness of polio and helped more than 30 African countries to hold their first National Immunization Days. Mandela’s call to action helped mobilize leaders across the continent to increase their efforts to reach every child with polio vaccine. 

More than 9 billion doses of oral polio vaccine have been provided throughout the region, preventing an estimated 1.8 million cases of paralysis. Each year, about 2 million volunteers help vaccinate 220 million children against polio multiple times in the African region. 

Rotary members have contributed nearly $890 million toward polio eradication efforts in the African region. The funds have allowed Rotary to issue PolioPlus grants to fund polio surveillance, transportation, awareness campaigns, and National Immunization Days Rotary members have also helped build an extensive polio infrastructure that has been used to respond to COVID-19 and, in 2014, the Ebola crisis, as well as to protect communities from yellow fever and bird flu.  This is the ‘PLUS’ in PolioPlus.

As Rotarians who have been involved in this cause since 1985, this is a moment we can all feel proud of and stand up and cheer.  Brag to your kids, grandkids, and friends.  The job is not done, but for the first time, the entire continent of Africa is considered free of polio.  Wow!  

All Rotarians must continue to promote polio awareness and continue to raise funds to finish the job.  It is far from over, but we know we can do it together.

 

Paul Stromborg,

District 6420 PolioPlus Chair