Humanitarians Bill Gates and Aliko Dangote are today celebrating with Presidents from the World Health Organisation’s Africa Region the eradication of wild poliomyelitis.
There should 47 Presidents involved in the virtual fest. But Mali’s Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta who was deposed in a military coup last week, remains in detention.
The WHO’s Africa region doesn’t include North Africa. However, there has not been a case of wild polio there since 2004 so WHO Africa director Matshidiso Moeti correctly declares the entire continent free of the disease that used to paralyze 75 000 children a year.
That leaves only Afghanistan and Pakistan as the only countries on the the planet still reporting polio cases.
Vaccines are very much front and centre of public consciousness with the race to find one against COVID 19.
The politicians are taking the lead in this battle with Donald Trump maintaining a COVID 19 vaccine could still arrive in time for the November 3 U.S. Presidential election he is desperate to win.
Both China and Russia maintain they have actually produced a vaccine but there is no rush by the public to avail themselves of such poorly tested measures.
The scientists maintain that COVID 19 will be with us for some time, even after a reliable vaccine is produced.
So far in medical history, smallpox is the only infectious disease to have been eradicated by vaccine. That was 40 years ago.
Rinderpest, spread among animals, is the other.
The World Health Organization lists 17 vaccines against dangerous and deadly diseases.
The polio eradication efforts led by Gates and Dangote began almost three decades ago and failed to meet its millennium target.
A 2003 boycott of the vaccination programme in Nigeria led to the disease spreading to 20 other countries in the next five years.
The eradication programme looked like it had succeeded in 2015 but four new cases were reported in 2016.
The Nigerian problem was focused on Borno State where the Islamist terror group Boko Haram prevented medical access to the population.
The authorities used the army to back up vaccination teams that used guerrilla tactics to get their job done.
They moved into areas made safe, even for a few days, and vaccinated children accompanying their parents to markets.
The children immunized in this way passed this on to their peers through drinking water.
Unfortunately some of the vaccine viruses muted and spread to villages where immunization was not total.
That strain is much less virulent – one in 200 cases results in paralysis.
In 2018, 68 children were infected. This number increased to 320 last year.
The WHO fears that this number may increase because of the COVID 19 lockdown preventing access by polio vaccination teams.