The Rotary Club of Accra-Tesano joined the Ghana Health Service to immunise children under the age of 5 years against Polio within the Klottey Korle district of the Greater Accra Region. As part of activities earmarked by the Ghana Health Service (GHS), a nationwide campaign to vaccinate children under five years against the polio virus resumed as part of its efforts aimed at responding to an outbreak of the circulating vaccine-derived polio virus (VDPV) from July. The club took part in both exercises, which targetted about 4.6 million children.
Over the years, Rotary has been working to eradicate polio for more than 35 years. Their goal was achieved this year when Africa was declared polio-free which was celebrated at an event held in Ashaiman recently. As a founding partner of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, they’ve reduced polio cases by 99.9 percent since their first project to vaccinate children in the Philippines during 1979.
Rotary members have contributed more than US$2.1billion and countless volunteer hours to protect nearly 3 billion children in 122 countries from this paralyzing disease. Rotary’s advocacy efforts have played a role in decisions by governments to contribute more than US$10billion to the effort. At the immunisation exercise’s end, president of the club, Nathaniel Amezdro, advised all parents to ensure their children under five years partake in the exercise since it serves as a preventive measure.
Prior to the exercise while addressing the press, Director-General of the GHS, Dr. Patrick Kuma-Aboagye, said the exercise was scheduled from September 10 to October 11 this year. The first round started in March this year but was halted due to ramifications of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. He further explained that eradication of all forms of polio requires that almost the entire population must be vaccinated. He further explained that some 2.4 million children born between January 2016 and February 2018, in particular, are susceptible to the polio type-two virus due to some global operational challenges with a switch in vaccine during that period.
What is polio?
Polio is a highly infectious disease caused by a virus. It invades the nervous system and can cause total paralysis in a matter of hours. The virus is transmitted by person-to-person spread mainly through the faecal-oral route or, less frequently, by a common vehicle (for example, contaminated water or food) and multiplies in the intestine. Initial symptoms are fever, fatigue, headache, vomiting, stiffness of the neck and pain in the limbs. 1 in 200 infections leads to irreversible paralysis (usually in the legs). Among those paralysed, 5% to 10% die when their breathing muscles become immobilised.
- Polio (poliomyelitis) mainly affects children under 5 years of age.
- 1 in 200 infections leads to irreversible paralysis. Among those paralysed, 5% to 10% die when their breathing muscles become immobilised.
- Cases due to wild poliovirus have decreased by over 99% since 1988, from an estimated 350,000 cases then to 33 reported cases in 2018.
- As long as a single child remains infected, children in all countries are at risk of contracting polio. Failure to eradicate polio from these last remaining strongholds could result in as many as 200,000 new cases every year, within 10 years, all over the world.
- In most countries, the global effort has expanded capacities to tackle other infectious diseases by building effective surveillance and immunisation systems.
There is no cure for polio, it can only be prevented. The polio vaccine, given multiple times, can protect a child for life.
Wild poliovirus cases have decreased by over 99% since 1988, from an estimated 350,000 cases in more than 125 endemic countries; then to 33 reported cases in 2018.
Of the 3 strains of wild poliovirus (type 1, type 2, and type 3), wild poliovirus type 2 was eradicated in 1999, and no case of wild poliovirus type 3 has been found since the last reported case in Nigeria during November 2012.
Launch of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative
In 1988, the Forty-first World Health Assembly adopted a resolution for the worldwide eradication of polio. It marked the launch of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), spearheaded by national governments, WHO, Rotary International, the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and UNICEF; and was later joined by additional key partners including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. This followed certification of smallpox eradication in 1980; progress during the 1980s toward elimination of the poliovirus in the Americas; and Rotary International’s commitment to raise funds for protecting all children from the disease.
Overall, since the GPEI was launched, the number of cases has fallen by over 99%.
In 1994, the WHO region of the Americas was certified polio-free, followed by the WHO Western Pacific Region in 2000 and the WHO European Region in June 2002. On 27 March 2014, the WHO South-East Asia Region was certified polio-free – meaning that transmission of wild poliovirus has been interrupted in this bloc of 11 countries stretching from Indonesia to India. This achievement marks a significant leap forward in global eradication, with 80% of the world’s population now living in certified polio-free regions.
More than 18 million people are able to walk today who would otherwise have been paralysed. An estimated 1.5 million childhood deaths have been prevented through the systematic administration of vitamin A during polio immunisation activities.
Opportunity and risks: an emergency approach
The strategies for polio eradication work when they are fully implemented. This is clearly demonstrated by India’s success with stopping polio in January 2011, in arguably the most technically-challenging place; and polio-free certification of the entire South-East Asia Region of WHO occurred in March 2014.
Failure to implement strategic approaches, however, leads to ongoing transmission of the virus. Endemic transmission of wild poliovirus is continuing to cause cases in border areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Failure to stop polio in these last remaining areas could result in as many as 200,000 new cases every year, within 10 years, all over the world. That is why it is critical to ensure polio is eradicated completely once and for all.
Future benefits of polio eradication
Once polio is eradicated, the world can celebrate the delivery of a major global public good that will benefit all people equally, no matter where they live. Economic modelling has found that the eradication of polio would save at least US$40–50billion, mostly in low-income countries. Most importantly, success would mean that no child will ever again suffer the terrible effects of lifelong polio-paralysis.