The World Health Organization (WHO) on Tuesday declared Africa is now free of poliovirus. The UN health agency announced this landmark victory in a decades-long campaign to eradicate the crippling disease around the world.
“Today is a historic day for Africa,” said Professor Rose Gana Fomban Leke, whose commission certified that no cases had occurred on the large yet mostly impoverished continent for the past four years, the threshold for eradication in the wild.
The independent Africa Regional Certification Commission (ARCC) for Polio Eradication verified that all 47 countries in the WHO’s Africa region have eradicated the viral disease.
Poliovirus now joins smallpox in the list of viruses that have been wiped out in Africa, the WHO said.
The last case in Africa was recorded in 2016 in Nigeria’s northeastern Borno state, which has been ravaged by the Islamist militant Boko Haram insurgency since 2009.
Poliovirus attacks the nervous system and can cause irreversible paralysis within hours. Children under five are the most vulnerable, but people can be fully protected with preventative vaccines.
To keep the virus at bay, population immunization coverage rates must be high and constant surveillance is crucial.