Africa: WHO Urges Government to Ensure That Stopping Circulating Vaccine Derived Polio Virus (CVDPV) Remains an Urgent Priority for the National Polio Programme

The World Polio Day was commemorated in Zambia on 23 October 2020 under the theme "Stories of progress past and present". Following the Certification of the WHO African Region as free of wild poliovirus on 25 August, the occasion served as an opportunity to celebrate this historical and monumental milestone.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) took the leadership to organize a virtual commemoration which brought together a total of 67 representatives from MOH provincial and district health offices, UN Agencies, Donor agencies, multilateral and bilateral institutions, local and international NGOs, academic and research institutions, the private sector and the media.

The Rotary International was represented at the event by the District Governor for District D9210, Ms Lucy Kasanga. Ms Kasanga stated that the declaration of the African Region as free from the Wild Polio Virus should be celebrated by all. She however called for more sustained fundraising and advocacy to reach the goal of a world without Polio and appealed to African heads of state to continue to support the Polio end game efforts with same efforts which were used in the past. She also called upon government to hire more health workers to reach every child in order that Polio could be the second disease to be wiped away from the face of the earth.

The US government committed to supporting key strategies for Polio eradication in the country, particularly ensuring high immunization, surveillance, outbreak response and monitoring and evaluation. In a massage to mark the World Polio Day, Charge D'Affaires, at the United States Embassy, David Young emphasized the need to use the "Reach Every Child" strategy in order to get vaccines to all children.

He paid a special tribute to the health workers for their commitment and sacrifice in ensuring that vaccines reach children even in difficult situations and conditions. Mr Young commended government for the timely and effective response that was mounted to address the Polio outbreak in Luapula and North Western Provinces in 2019. He emphasized the need to build a resilient immunization system that could withstand any public health emergency and recognized the role partnerships played in success scored in efforts towards Polio eradication.

Speaking at the same occasion, The UNICEF Representative, Ms Noala Skinner stated that although 2020 was a challenging year, the declaration of Africa as polio free was a major landmark. She said that despite the COVID 19 pandemic, more than 89% of the children in Chienge and Chavuma districts received the oral polio vaccine during the 2020 Child Health week in June. She however emphasized the need to be vigilant and to build a successful polio programme which in turn could contribute to a stronger health system.

The WHO Representative, Dr. Nathan Bakyaita stated that the certification of the WHO African Region as polio free by the Africa Regional Certification Commission for polio eradication (ARCC) in August 2020 did not mark the end of the work of the National Polio programme as stopping Circulating Vaccine Derived Polio Virus (cVDPV) remained an urgent priority.

Dr Bakyaita said that the increasing number of cVDPV outbreaks across Africa was a reminder that countries could not afford to let their guard down, and must continue reaching every child with the polio vaccine to protect them from cVDPVs including any importation of wild polio from the remaining two endemic countries. "The same strategies that stop wild polio should be used to stop cVDPVs" he said. He commended the government for introducing the first dose of IPV and called upon the Ministry of Health to consider the routinization of the second dose of IPV.

The Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Health, Dr. Kennedy Malama stated that the government recognized that the threat of Polio remained despite the achievements which were being celebrated. He said the Government was therefore committed to Universal Health Coverage which included access to vaccines for children.

Dr. Malama said that the Ministry of Health was implementing strategies to maintain the polio free status in line with the Polio End Game strategy. He recognized the on- going strategic partnership with WHO and UNICEF and appealed to the US Government to continue providing support aimed at the strengthening the Expanded Programme on Immunization, particularly, cold chain, vaccines and transportation. He thanked all stakeholders and communities for their contribution towards the success scored by Zambia in the past and the present.

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