Polio, a viral infection that is transmitted through food or water contaminated by infected human faeces or by direct contact with an infectious person, can cause symptoms of mild illness to fever, inflammation of the lining of the brain (symptoms of meningitis), or paralysis – although the majority (95 per cent) of those who get polio are asymptomatic.
Back in 1988, polio occurred in over 125 countries across five continents, leaving more than 1,000 children paralysed every day. Now, globally, thanks to vaccinations and polio eradication initiatives, polio rates have been reduced by over 99 per cent, and with the Africa Regional Certification Commission's latest announcement, is only commonly reported in two countries: Afghanistan and Pakistan.
While various travel health authorities note that the risk of polio remains pretty low (thanks to polio vaccinations), travellers going to areas or countries where there are recent reports of wild polio, whose last dose of polio vaccine was given 10 or more years ago, are advised to seek out a booster polio vaccination (or else standard vaccination, had they not previously been vaccinated). Especially those working overseas in a destination with known cases of polio, should ensure that themselves and their families have the appropriate vaccinations.
As of 25 August, Africa was declared free of the last remaining strain of wild poliovirus (two out of the three strains of wild poliovirus have now been eradicated worldwide). And, up until less than a decade ago, Nigeria accounted for more than half of all global cases of polio, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Thanks to the Africa Regional Certification Commission's immunisation strategy (now, over 95 per cent of Africa’s population has been immunised), the continent of Africa is now free of wild poliovirus. And while the vaccine-derived polio virus (a rare form of the virus that mutates from the oral polio vaccine and can then spread to under-immunised communities) remains in Africa, only 177 cases of it have been identified this year.
“Ending wild polio virus in Africa is one of the greatest public health achievements of our time and provides powerful inspiration for all of us to finish the job of eradicating polio globally,” said WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “I thank and congratulate the governments, health workers, community volunteers, traditional and religious leaders and parents across the region who have worked together to kick wild polio out of Africa.”
Dr Robert R. Redfield, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Director, also commented: “This moment is Africa’s to celebrate and savour, and I want you to know that CDC stands with you today and until the day polio is finally eradicated … We know and have seen that wild poliovirus importations can occur in any country, and while the virus is still circulating in endemic countries, the world remains at risk. An urgent charge now for Africa is to rapidly stop the circulation of vaccine-derived poliovirus outbreaks.”