The World Health Organisation (WHO) said Africa stood the chance of being certified polio-free by the end of 2019 or early 2020 if member states could strengthen medical surveillance and ensure that no polio case was recorded.
The WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, said this in her message on Wednesday in Abuja, to mark the World Polio Day.
Moeti, however, warned countries in the region against being complacent until polio is eradicated.
She called on all countries to continue to strengthen surveillance efforts in secured and unsecured areas given that the region still remained predisposed to outbreaks.
According to her, although the region has made tremendous progress towards polio eradication, some states have continued to circulate vaccine-derived poliovirus.
The regional director attributed the trend to weak routine immunisation.
She said that since the launch of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) nearly 30 years ago, new cases of polio had dropped from 350,000 cases yearly in more than 125 countries and by more than 99.9 per cent, to 22 wild polio cases in two affected countries in 2017.
“As a region, our surveillance efforts need to be strengthened. It will be a disaster if we fail to be certified because of poor surveillance performance.
“A number of countries have sub-optimal surveillance in both secured and in secured areas.
“I therefore urge all countries whether they have had a case of polio or not to recommit to strengthening surveillance urgently.
“As late as 2012, the region accounted for more than half of the global polio burden, but polio cases have dropped steadily from 128 cases in 2012 to four cases in 2016 and 0 cases in 2017 and 2018.
“The region has now reached an important milestone towards eradication; it has been more than two years since the last case of wild poliovirus.
“I applaud the excellent efforts of governments, polio eradication partners, communities, parents and health workers in achieving this.
“This is no time however to be complacent. Until polio is eradicated, all countries remain at risk of outbreaks.
“As a region, Africa can only be certified to have eradicated polio if three years have passed without any confirmed wild poliovirus.
“Also if polio surveillance has been maintained at the level required for certification, If no new case is confirmed and surveillance is quickly strengthened, the region can be certified to have eradicated polio by end of 2019 or early 2020.”
Moeti also called on all member states to take proactive steps towards the containment of the poliovirus and potential poliovirus infectious materials in a timely manner to prevent the spread of the disease.
She said that this could lead to catastrophic outbreaks and reverse the gains towards eradication.
The regional director said that eradication of polio needed political commitment and adequate resources.
She assured member states of WHO’s support.
Moeti expressed optimism that the region would soon eradicate polio, but called on member countries to work together to ensure that the objective was achieved.
The World Polio Day is celebrated every year on Oct. 24 to galvanise support to end polio, an incurable but completely vaccine preventable disease that still threatens children in a few places around the world.