Health authorities have declared Africa free of the wild polio virus after decades of efforts, a major step in the campaign to eradicate the crippling viral disease worldwide.
Tuesday’s historic announcement by the African Regional Certification Commission for Polio Eradication during a World Health Organization (WHO) event came four years after the continent’s last case was reported in northern Nigeria.
The commission, an independent body, confirmed that all 47 countries in the WHO’s Africa region have eradicated the disease that attacks the nervous system and can cause irreversible paralysis within hours.
The news was hailed by health experts, who also urged continued vigilance over the still-existing threat posed by polio vaccine-derived outbreaks in more than a dozen countries.
“This is one of the greatest public health achievements, demonstrating that with science and solidarity we can beat viruses and save lives,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.
Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO’s Africa director, called for a continuation in the efforts to protect children across the continent “against all forms of polio and other childhood diseases”.
She added: “We must take the lessons learned and best practices from eradicating wild polio virus to achieve Africa’s other public health goals and improve healthcare for all Africans.”