“I am extremely proud to be involved in this important milestone for Africa: eradicating wild polio”. With these words, Matshidiso Moeti, head of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Africa, announces that the African continent is free from wild polio, a disease that leads to irreversible paralysis. A milestone, although there is a small side note. A certain strain of the polio virus is still active.
Polio, an infection caused by the polio virus, is a disease that mainly affects young children and can lead to irreversible paralysis. There is no treatment for the disease, but there is a vaccine. In our country, the polio vaccine is the only compulsory vaccination.
Thanks to the vaccine, large parts of the world are polio-free. Still, outbreaks still occur here and there. A decade ago, the African country of Nigeria was responsible for about half of all polio cases worldwide. But now Nigeria can also declare itself polio-free, as the last country on the African continent.
The last region where a polio outbreak was reported was Borno, the northeastern state ravaged by Boko Haram’s jihadism. For years, the terrorist organization put a strong brake on the vaccination program through violence and disinformation. Health care workers who vaccinated children sometimes even had to pay with their lives.