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The African Polio Eradication Certification Commission (ARCC), which is the independent body responsible for monitoring and overseeing the certification process on the continent, officially said on Tuesday that the African Region of the World Health Organization (WHO) is free from wild poliovirus.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says this is the second eradicated virus in Africa since smallpox was eradicated four decades ago.

“This is an incredible and exciting day,” said WHO Africa Director Matshidiso Moeti.

“This day is inscribed in golden letters in the history of Africa. The African Polio Eradication Certification Commission is pleased to announce that the Region has met the criteria for certification of wild poliovirus eradication, with no cases reported in the African Region for four years”, said Prof. Rose Gana Fomban Leke, President of the Commission.

The African Polio Eradication Certification Commission decision comes after a comprehensive decades-long process of documentation and analysis of polio surveillance, immunization and laboratory capacities of the 47 Member States of the Region, which included verification field visits to each country.

In 1996, during the thirty-second ordinary session of the Organization of African Unity held in Yaoundé (Cameroon), African heads of state committed to eradicating polio in Africa. At the time, polio paralyzed nearly 75,000 children every year on the African continent.

The last case of wild poliovirus detected in the Region was reported in Nigeria in 2016. Since 1996, polio eradication efforts have prevented irreversible paralysis in 1.8 million children and saved nearly of 180,000 lives.

“The eradication of wild poliovirus marks an important milestone for Africa. Future generations of African children will now be able to live without fear of contamination by wild poliovirus,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti.

Thanks to the dedication of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPI), polio cases have declined 99.9% since 1988, bringing the world closer than ever to eradicating the disease. The initiative is a global public-private partnership that brings together national governments, WHO, Rotary International, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, UNICEF, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Gavi, l ‘Vaccine Alliance, and a wide range of longtime supporters.

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