•Engaging with polio survivors has given me firsthand insights into the lifelong challenges they face
•Our work is not yet done, and our shared vision is clear: ‘Make Polio History.’
While strides have been made in combating polio worldwide, it remains crucial to remember that as long as there are pockets of unvaccinated children anywhere, all children, everywhere, are potentially at risk of this paralyzing disease.
Every child aged five years and below should be fully vaccinated against all vaccine-preventable childhood diseases, including polio, ensuring their robust immunity against such ailments.
Polio eradication stands as one of history's most ambitious global health endeavours. Once eradicated, polio will join smallpox as only the second human disease ever to be completely eliminated.
The ongoing End Polio Now campaign in pivotal regions is not just an initiative—it's a collective journey. As the saying goes, "It always seems impossible until it's done." My personal commitment to this cause was ignited during my time with the World Health Organization in 1996, where I aided WHO/AFRO in large-scale immunization drives against polio in Africa.
Vaccines are our beacon of hope. With polio, our resolve must remain unyielding, ensuring every child is reached, for a single case of polio anywhere in the world is one too many. The persistence of this virus has proven its resilience, reinforcing the need to amplify both routine and supplementary immunizations until its global eradication.
Even after 17 fulfilling years at WHO, my passion only intensified, finding solidarity and support in a global community: Rotary International.
Engaging with polio survivors has given me firsthand insights into the lifelong challenges they face, exacerbated by complications arising from their childhood infections. The Post Polio Syndrome (PPS) Advocacy Group, a commendable initiative, serves as a platform to unite polio survivors and shed light on their struggles.
PPS Advocacy group members are unwavering in their endorsement of mass vaccination for vulnerable children and the importance of robust global surveillance.
Presently, wild polio remains endemic only Afghanistan and Pakistan, and it's essential to understand that unvaccinated populations are at risk. These individuals are vulnerable to all forms of polio, be it wild or rare variant strains. The importance of comprehensive immunization cannot be overstated, especially in regions where the risk remains.
Our collective responsibility can be summed up in three points: comprehending the current status of polio, raising awareness of the efforts and progress made by organizations like Rotary and its allies, and contributing to the eradication mission, ensuring continued vaccination and surveillance.
Rotary's PolioPlus program, launched in 1985, envisioned a polio-free world through the mass vaccination of children. Then, this dream was bolstered in 1988 when Rotary and its partners formed the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), which now leads the global eradication charge.
Thanks to the efforts of Rotary and its partners, the incidence of wild polio cases has decreased by 99.9 percent, and more than 20 million cases of paralysis have been averted through the global effort to eradicate polio.
However, our work is not yet done, and our shared vision is clear: ‘Make Polio History.’
A polio-free Africa hinges on robust health systems. All children must have unhindered access to primary health care, nutritious meals, clean water, sanitation, and essential vaccines. Meticulous disease surveillance is imperative to promptly identify and address any polio resurgence.
Embracing advancements in immunization techniques, including the adoption of the novel oral polio vaccine type 2 (nOPV2), can further bolster our fight against polio. It's essential to recognize that until every child is immunized, the global community remains interconnected in this battle.
Let's harness our resources and determination. Together, we march forward with a united goal: End Polio Now.
Prof Stella Anyangwe is a Physician, Epidemiologist, and a Past District Governor of Rotary’s D9400. She currently spearheads the End Polio Now campaign for Rotary’s Region 28, overseeing seven Districts across 15 countries in Eastern and Southern Africa.