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Africa is now free of the wild poliovirus, but polio threat remains

By Ritika Nath

After decades of struggles and effort, on Tuesday the Health authorities are finally expected to declare the continent of Africa free of the wild poliovirus, but still, the threat of vaccine-derived polio remains.

Four decades ago Africa got free of Smallpox, now they would be free of the wild poliovirus as stated by WHO. But cases of vaccine-derived polio is sparking outbreaks of the paralyzing disease in more than a couple of countries, which is still a threat to the continent. This declaration from the health authorities would leave Pakistan and the neighbouring country Afghanistan as the only countries in the world that still have the wild poliovirus ongoing, with vaccination efforts against the highly infectious, water-borne disease complicated by insecurity and attacks on doctors.

The African Regional Certification Commission for Polio Eradication made this declaration only after analysing all the cases and coming to the conclusion that there were zero cases reported in the last four years. Poliovirus once used to paralyze approximately 75,000 children a year across the continent, whereas from the past four years there has been no case reported as such.

Even after the declaration there still might be a possibility that among the 1.3 billion populations the wild poliovirus might remain undetected, even if they keep keen surveillance on the virus. This is the second time a virus has been eradicated from the continent, Smallpox being the first as said by WHO.

The final shove to fight this wild poliovirus is usually focused on northern Nigeria, where the Boko Haram Islamic extremist group has administered a deadly insurgency for quite a decade. Still, the health workers sometimes used to put their lives at risk by carrying out vaccinations on the margin of the insecurity.

The continents last reported Wild Poliovirus case was in Nigeria in 2016. The country had been removed from the global list of polio-endemic nations in 2015, which was a huge step towards being declared as a Poliovirus free country. But then after, new cases of children getting infected started reporting in the north.

This current declaration does not mean that Africa is absolutely Poliovirus free.

Still, cases remain of the vaccine-derived poliovirus, which is a rare form of the weakened but live virus contained in the oral polio vaccine. 16 countries in Africa are still experiencing this mutated form of virus which sparks crippling polio outbreaks.

The Corona Virus pandemic has caused a disturbance in the vaccination work which was going on in several countries in the African continent, which has led to leaving more children vulnerable to this infection as warned by the health workers. But still, they are trying their best to reach out to those children and to cure them as soon as possible. Even now, on the North side of Nigeria, many children remain out of reach from the health workers who are carrying out the vaccinations.

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