The African region is poised to complete a critical step towards wild polio eradication as the independent commission to decide on the African Region’s wild poliovirus-free status has concluded its final field visit to Nigeria this week, after conducting critical analysis to verify the documentation presented by the Nigerian Government.
The Africa Regional Certification Commission (ARCC) for wild poliomyelitis eradication carried out similar field visits in all the 47 countries of the World Health Organization (WHO) African Region to verify the absence of wild poliovirus while ensuring that disease surveillance is undergoing according to certification-standard. It has already accepted the documentation of 43 African countries with only Cameroon, Central African Republic, Nigeria, and South Sudan remaining.
For its final field verification visit in Nigeria, the ARCC visited selected health facilities at Central, State, Local Government Authority and Ward levels in the states of Kwara, Kogi in the North Central Zone; Borno and Bauchi in the North East Zone; and Kano and Sokoto in the North West Zone.
“This verification visit is an opportunity for Nigeria to demonstrate to the rest of the world that it is on the verge of ending the chapter of wild poliovirus from its history. The virus has paralysed thousands and killed scores of Nigerians for decades. Today, every Nigerian is very excited about the prospects of this historic achievement,” said Dr Faisal Shuaib, Executive Director of Nigeria’s National Public Health Care and Development Agency.
The commission will finalize documentation review of the four countries in June before making its final decision on the certification of wild poliovirus eradication in the African Region.
“The World Health Organization will continue working with all Member States to ensure that all the commission’s recommendations are implemented,” said Dr Pascal Mkanda, WHO Polio Eradication Programme Coordinator for the African region.
“We are hopeful that the commission will in June certify that the region has eradicated wild poliovirus,” said Dr Mkanda.
No wild poliovirus has been detected anywhere in Africa since 2016. This stands in stark contrast to 1996 when wild poliovirus paralysed more than 75,000 children across every country on the continent.
The primary requirements for the region’s certification are that no wild poliovirus transmissions are detected for a minimum of three consecutive years in all the region’s countries and that a high-quality certification-standard of acute flaccid paralysis surveillance is in place in all countries for those three years. In addition, countries must maintain high immunization coverage for the oral polio vaccine, have a robust national polio outbreak preparedness and response plan and a functional National Polio Certification Committee.
Polio is a highly infectious disease caused by a virus that mainly affects children under five years of age. It invades the nervous system and can cause total paralysis in a matter of hours. Among those paralyzed, 5% to 10% die when their breathing muscles become immobilized.
The WHO African Regional Director appointed the ARCC for wild polio eradication to serve as the principal advisory body that reviews country-level certification reports submitted to it, and formulates recommendations for regional/country certification. ARCC members are charged with reviewing certification documentation from all 47 countries in the WHO African Region and verifying the absence of wild poliovirus in the presence of certification-standard surveillance. The commission meets biannually to review certification documentation and updates from countries in the region.