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Kicking Polio Out of Africa

Celebrating a historic milestone

USAID
USAID
Aug 25 · 5 min read
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A child receives a polio vaccine at a health center in Ishaka Mberare, Uganda. / Kate Holt, MCSP

In 1996, an outbreak of the wild poliovirus paralyzed more than 75,000 children across Africa.

Transmitted from person to person, polio is an infectious disease that causes irreversible paralysis and even death. Though no cure for polio exists, safe and effective vaccines can protect people from contracting the disease. Since earnest eradication efforts began in the mid-1990s, polio has been eliminated in more than 120 countries.

Today, Africa achieved a historic public health milestone: the eradication of the wild poliovirus. Thanks to 25 years of coordination and commitment to scaling up and sustaining the delivery of vaccines to children in the hardest-to-reach places, the wild poliovirus no longer threatens children across the African continent. Africa is the fifth of six global regions declared wild polio-free; only the eastern Mediterranean region remains uncertified.

Countless health workers, community leaders, and volunteers contributed to this momentous success, never losing sight of the goal of reaching every last child. USAID is proud to support communities to detect and eliminate the wild poliovirus.

“Eradicating wild poliovirus from Africa is a big deal, and we congratulate the countries, heroic polio workers, and communities who kicked polio out of Africa,” said USAID’s Worldwide Polio Eradication Coordinator Ellyn W. Ogden. “You have shown the world that Africa can accomplish great things when we work together with the right tools and strategies, dedicated leadership, and resources.”

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A community health worker prepares to administer polio vaccines to a family in rural Madagascar. / Samy Rakontoniaina, USAID

The road to wild polio eradication in Africa was not easy. Protracted conflict, displaced populations, remote communities, and other challenges stalled the efforts of countries trying to combat the virus for over a quarter-century. One by one, countries across Africa conquered the virus through the unwavering dedication, creative problem solving, and incredible hard work of local communities and global partners alike.

Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Nigeria, and South Sudan were the most recent countries to cross the finish line to certification, meeting strict criteria, and remaining wild polio-free for three consecutive years.

— USAID South Sudan Mission Director Haven Cruz-Hubbard

Learn about the numerous contributors who worked together to achieve this milestone for Africa:

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A health technician surrounded by laboratory equipment makes a note in a polio lab in Kenya. / Ellyn Ogden, USAID

Laboratory analysts met rigorous test standards and examined millions of samples to accurately diagnose cases.

Case investigators tracked down every suspected infection and regularly followed up to confirm community eradication.

Logisticians and planners mapped out each community to ensure no house nor child was missed.

Supply chain technicians delivered billions of vaccine doses and maintained the delicate conditions to ensure their viability.

Monitoring and evaluation experts collected the data needed to identify gaps in immunization and improve the quality of vaccines.

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Women and their children wait to receive vaccinations and care at the Women and Children Welfare Hospital in Sokoto, Nigeria. The polio vaccine is one of three routine immunizations children receive. / Karen Kasmauski, MCSP

Community mobilizers tirelessly touted the benefits of life-saving immunizations, answered questions from concerned parents, and motivated families to vaccinate their children.

Religious, traditional, and local leaders guided their communities and helped sustain eradication efforts for new generations.

Families and caregivers walked long distances to vaccinate their children and opened their doors to health care providers.

Journalists and editors reported on the wild poliovirus and rallied the global community to unify for a common cause.

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Kenyan Senator Harold Kipchumba, a polio survivor, gives the polio vaccine to a child and reflects on his experience. “Just two drops. This is what I didn’t have.” / UNICEF

Governments, donors, and the United Nations provided financial, technical, coordination, and operational support.

Civil society organizations championed vaccination campaigns and assisted with delivery across the continent.

And last, but certainly not least, legions of frontline health workers sought to vaccinate every African child, even if it meant climbing mountains, fording rivers, and navigating natural and man-made disasters.

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A young boy gets ready to receive a polio vaccine in Mwene-Ditu, DRC. / Management Sciences for Health

Vaccines remain one the world’s most important tools for protecting against infectious diseases both at home and abroad.

“Unimmunized children are at risk and can be paralyzed. I now advise people to vaccinate their children and protect them from illness,” said Ubah, a mother of three in the Somali region in Ethiopia, whose brother was trained as a community volunteer and taught her about the importance of vaccination.

In fighting polio, the global community reached more children than any other public health initiative in history. Sustained political will, high-quality immunization campaigns, stronger routine immunization, active disease surveillance, and rapid response plans illustrate why global polio eradication efforts are a shining example for overcoming complex health challenges.

As the COVID-19 pandemic disrupts routine immunizations worldwide, we can draw upon these lessons learned to inform our response to current and future infectious disease outbreaks.

Looking ahead, we recognize the job is not done: all polioviruses in all countries must be eradicated before the world will be truly polio-free. If one child remains infected, all children are at risk. We must immunize every child to prevent infection, stop transmission, and ultimately eradicate the virus.

Together, we can kick polio off the planet, not just out of Africa.

U.S. Agency for International Development

Stories of USAID’s Work from Around the World

USAID

Written by

USAID

We advance U.S. natl. security & economic prosperity, demonstrate American generosity & promote self-reliance & resilience. Privacy: http://go.usa.gov/3G4xN

U.S. Agency for International Development

Stories of USAID’s Work from Around the World

USAID

Written by

USAID

We advance U.S. natl. security & economic prosperity, demonstrate American generosity & promote self-reliance & resilience. Privacy: http://go.usa.gov/3G4xN

U.S. Agency for International Development

Stories of USAID’s Work from Around the World

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