10 March 2019

Africa: South Africa Bids to Regain WHO Polio-Free Certification

analysis

South Africa is part of a 'pariah' group of countries that are not certified polio-free, thanks to weaknesses in our surveillance and vaccination programme. The Department of Health is determined to win back its certificate in April, and it launched an immunisation survey last week to check on the nation's vaccination rate. But we should never have lost the certificate in the first place.

A few decades ago, polio was one of the most feared diseases on earth, leaving millions of children disabled -- in wheelchairs, callipers and on crutches with shrivelled limbs.

US President Franklin D Roosevelt, artist Frida Kahlo, musician Joni Mitchell, actress Mia Farrow and film director Francis Ford Coppola are some of the famous survivors of the highly contagious virus, spread via faeces, sneezing and coughing.

Once a vaccine was discovered in 1955 and distributed globally, polio cases plummeted. In 1988, the World Health Assembly took a resolution to eradicate polio from the world. At that time, there were 350,000 cases in 125 countries. In 2018, there were only 33 cases in three countries -- Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria.

But somewhere in the global anti-polio effort, South Africa faltered. After being certified polio-free in 2006, the...

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