Rotary and its partners in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) are proud to announce an historic public health achievement as the World Health Organization’s African region is now certified wild poliovirus-free.
The milestone comes four years after Nigeria – the last polio-endemic country in Africa – recorded its final case of wild poliovirus following decades of effort from GPEI partners, local and national leaders, and health workers throughout the African region. Over the course of the effort, 9 billion doses of oral polio vaccine have been administered, hundreds of millions of children have been immunized, and 1.8 million cases of wild poliovirus have been averted throughout the region.
Today’s announcement is in part a result of the cumulative actions of Rotary and its members, who have contributed nearly US$890 million—and countless volunteer hours—to eliminate polio in the African region.
“In the face of a pandemic, the world has had very little good news to celebrate in global health this year and the challenges ahead are formidable,” said Rotary International President Holger Knaack. “That is why we must recognize this great achievement and commend all of the people who played important roles in eradicating wild polio in the African region. It took tremendous effort and partnership over many years. I’m particularly grateful for the Rotary members throughout Africa and around the world who have dedicated themselves to making polio a disease of the past.”
The road to the African region’s wild poliovirus-free certification has been paved by the dedication of health workers—mainly women—who traveled by every form of transportation imaginable to reach children with the polio vaccine; those who found solutions for reaching children in regions rife with conflict and insecurity; those leading surveillance activities to test cases of paralysis and check sewage for the virus, and the leadership of all 47 countries in the African region.
“We have been painstakingly working toward this day since 1996, when Rotary and its GPEI partners first joined with Nelson Mandela to mobilize leaders across the continent to commit to reaching every child with the polio vaccine,” said Dr. Tunji Funsho, chair of Rotary’s Nigeria National PolioPlus Committee. “We still have important work to do, but this achievement shows that with collaboration, and political and financial support, the global eradication of polio is possible.”
Mr Deepak Kapur, Chairman, Rotary International’s India National PolioPlus Committee added, “We commend the African region for eliminating the wild poliovirus and congratulate the many Rotary members, partners, local and government leaders, volunteers and staff who made this achievement possible. With this announcement, five out of the six World Health Organization (WHO) regions are now wild polio-free, serving as much-needed encouragement for the hundreds of thousands of frontline health workers who have been fighting tirelessly to keep children worldwide safe and immunized against polio and other vaccine-preventable diseases, even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As part of the WHO’s South-East Asia region, which was certified free of the wild poliovirus in 2014, India recognizes that there are lessons to be shared to help the African region remain free of the wild poliovirus. India has safeguarded its children for over 10 years since the last wild polio case was reported in January 2011 by ensuring that all children throughout the country are vaccinated twice each year to stay protected from polio. Thanks to unwavering political commitment, intense polio surveillance, an intricate network of vaccinators and community mobilizers, focused measures for high-risk areas/populations, and robust communication strategies, India has maintained high immunization coverage and remains polio-free. However, we must always remember that as long as polio exists anywhere, it still remains a threat everywhere, so it’s imperative that wild polio is eradicated in the remaining countries of Afghanistan and Pakistan. We are proud to stand with the African region and celebrate its success in eliminating the wild poliovirus and look forward to the day when no child anywhere will be paralyzed by polio.”
Polio vaccination efforts throughout the African region must continue, and routine immunization must be strengthened to keep immunity levels high, so the wild poliovirus does not return and to protect children against rare occurrences of circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus. The wild virus continues to circulate in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and as long as it circulates anywhere, all children are at risk.
Rotary’s nearly 32,000 members in Africa have played a critical role in helping the region achieve its wild polio-free status by holding events to raise funds and awareness for polio, and working with world governments and national and local leaders to secure funding and support for polio eradication. Rotary members around the world have donated their time and money to supporting polio eradication, the organization’s top priority.