AFRICA – African countries have committed to ending all forms of polio after cases of vaccine-derived polio increased last year, partly because of disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Almost 100 million African children have been vaccinated against polio since July 2020, after activities were paused due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In 2020, Africa had been declared free of the wild poliovirus, after four years without a single case. However, a variant has since returned in communities where not enough children have received the vaccine against it.
Addressing a session of the World Health Organization’s regional committee for Africa, the director of Uganda’s Health Ministry, Henry Mwebesa, said his country would carry out a national campaign to vaccinate children against polio before the end of the year.
“The challenges we anticipate is vaccine hesitancy, which has been common even with the COVID vaccines, and we expect to continue during this period. But we will try our best to mobilize the whole country, cultural leaders, the political leadership and professional associations to assist us to mobilize the communities to address the challenge, the hesitance, to make sure that all our children below five years have received this novel OPV,” Mwebesa said.
The novel Oral Polio Vaccine is key to stopping polio outbreaks. Last year, Africa was declared free of wild poliovirus.
In the last three years, however, 23 African states have experienced outbreaks of vaccine-derived poliovirus 2. That’s a strain of weakened poliovirus that was included in the oral virus but mutated over time and now behaves like the wild or naturally occurring virus.
WHO regional director Matshidiso Moeti said the continent needs to do more to eradicate that form of the poliovirus.
“Our shared objective is to stop all polioviruses by 2023 and to integrate a polio infrastructure to strengthen border disease surveillance and outbreak response systems, as well as immunization policies,” Moeti said.
Ethiopia has recorded seven cases of poliovirus type 2 in 2021. The country’s health minister, Lia Tadesse, says her government is trying to address the current outbreaks.
“We all agree that the quality of any campaign is as good as our preparedness. We follow our preparedness to the national foundation mechanisms using electronic data tools and self-assessment at the different levels up to the district and then validate those assessments,” Tadesse said.
More than 100 million African children have been vaccinated against the poliovirus since July 2020. But many others missed the vaccinations due to the coronavirus pandemic.
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