The World Health Organization (WHO) today officially declared the entirety of Africa polio-free. A disease that as recently as the late 1980s was endemic in 125 countries, claiming 350 000 children per year, has now been run to ground in just two remaining places, Pakistan and Afghanistan, where there have been a collective 102 cases so far in 2020.
Rotary International has hailed the declaration of Africa by the WHO as being polio free. Nigeria, the final country on the 54-nation African continent where the disease was endemic, recorded its last case more than three years ago. The WHO has now declared Africa free of the disease. Rotary International and its partners in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative announced the WHO declaration in a statement.
“Today’s victory over the wild poliovirus in the African region is a testament to what can happen when partners from a variety of sectors join forces to accomplish a major global health goal,” says John Hewko, general secretary and CEO of Rotary International. “It is something the world can and should aspire to during these turbulent times.”
It was Rotary, an international nonprofit service organization that kicked off the polio end-game in 1988 with the launch of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI).
That program aimed to leverage the power of Rotary’s 35 000 clubs and 1.22 million members in 200 countries and territories worldwide to make polio only the second human disease after smallpox, to be pushed over the brink of extinction.
The job was made easier by the partners Rotary immediately attracted: the WHO, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and UNICEF. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation joined in 2007, followed by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, just last year.
The 32-year initiative has depended on volunteer workers and charitable donations, which together have produced an army of 20 million field workers administering vaccines to over 2.5 billion children at a cost of $17 billion.