Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | African countries have been urged to strengthen routine immunization and surveillance measures to detect polio outbreaks.
The call was made on Wednesday by the World Health Organization Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti in Brazzaville, Congo, as Africa marked a major milestone on the path to polio eradication.
Dr Matshida who addressed journalists in a tele-press briefing says that Africa passes a milestone threshold- three years with no case of wild polio virus detected in Africa.
She says that the three-year landmark celebrated sets in motion a comprehensive evaluation process by the Africa Regional Certification Commission to determine if the entire WHO African Region of 47 countries can be declared free from polio.
“We are confident that soon we will be declaring the certification that countries have, once and for all, kicked polio out of Africa,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti
She says that if the evaluation process proves the wild virus is gone, Africa will join four of the WHO regions, the Americas, the Western Pacific, Europe and South-East Asia. It will leave only the WHO Eastern Mediterranean region still working to stop the virus.
Dr Moeti praised the continent’s resilience and strong commitment to stopping the virus in overcoming the tough challenges.
“The path to eradicating polio in Africa has been a monumental effort of multinational coordination on an unprecedented scale, providing vaccinations to hundreds of millions of children and conducting immunization campaigns in some of the most remote locations in the world, with vigilance and exhaustive surveillance to timely detect outbreaks, including among people on the move,” she said.
She also noted that these successes would not have been possible without the incredible perseverance of countries and partners in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative who have mobilized the financial and technical resources to get the job done.
“Reaching every last child with life-saving vaccines as well as strengthening surveillance and routine immunization across the region will be essential to sustain the progress against wild polio and other strains.” She added.
She, however, raised concern over the challenges of accessing some areas which are stuck with insurgencies which makes them inaccessible hence affecting immunization coverage yet there is a need to reach and protect communities from the rare non-wild polio strains that can emerge when a population is not thoroughly immunized.
Dr Pascal Mkanda, coordinator of the Polio Eradication Program at the World Health Organisation says that routine immunization coverage remains a critical challenge since some communities have populations with low immunity levels which may cause re-occurrences in such communities.
Steve Landry the director of Multilateral Partnerships, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, says that they are committed to continue supporting African countries to kick polio out of the continent.
The call comes at a time when Uganda has rescheduled the mass immunization campaign for Rubella and measles from 18th -22 to 25th -29 September after the ministry of health officials realizing that the major target audience of this vaccination campaign will be in examination season.