The United Kingdom’s (UK) efforts to stop wild polio in Africa have contributed to the continent being officially declared free from the disease, which can kill or maim children for life.
The World Health Organization (WHO) on Tuesday declared end of wild polio in Africa, marking a major step towards global eradication.
A statement issued By the British High Commission in Accra, which was made available to the Ghana News Agency, said the UK funding had vaccinated millions of children against polio, measles and cholera.
It said British expertise was also helping to develop a safe, workable coronavirus vaccine that would be available around the world.
“Today’s announcement by the WHO follows no new wild polio cases being registered across the continent for four years. Wild polio was previously the predominant cause of the disease and the polio vaccine protects individuals against this form of the virus,” it said.
“Just 25 years ago, polio was paralysing an estimated 75,000 children a year in Africa.”
The statement said the UK was one of the top donors to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), which had vaccinated millions of children against polio in the world’s poorest countries.
It said as a result of their work, more than 18 million people were able to walk, who would otherwise had been paralysed by the virus.
The statement reiterated that support from the UK had helped 220 million children across 47 countries in Africa.
The statement said last year, the UK committed funding to vaccinate more than 400 million children against polio across the world until 2023.
The statement said it would save an estimated 650,000 children from life-long paralysis every year and support over 20 million staff and volunteers worldwide to deliver polio vaccination and broader health services to communities for those affected by the disease.
It said the funding would help provide large scale immunisations for children in high risk countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan, where wild polio was yet to be eradicated.
The statement said it would also support work across Africa where there had been increasing outbreaks of vaccine-derived poliovirus which continued to paralyse children.
It said in June, the Prime Minister hosted the Global Vaccine Summit which raised over $8.8bn to vaccinate 300 million more children in the world’s poorest countries against diseases including measles, polio and cholera.
The statement said the UK was also funding international efforts to develop a safe, workable coronavirus vaccine that would be available throughout the world – as the biggest country donor to the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations.
Madam Anne-Marie Trevelyan, the UK International Development Secretary said: “Thirty years ago, over 100 countries had wild polio. Now, every country in Africa is free from the disease – in large part thanks to UK aid helping to vaccinate children and strengthen health systems across the continent – so no child need suffer again.
“This outstanding achievement shows what the world can achieve when we work together to tackle global health crises.
“There is still work to do and the UK will keep working to end all types of polio to prevent people suffering from this debilitating disease.”
It said August 2019 marked three consecutive years since Nigeria, the last African country with wild polio, had a case of wild poliovirus.
The statement said since then the Africa Regional Certification Commission for Polio Eradication, an independent body of experts, had reviewed data from across the continent, concluding in today’s announcement.
It said Pakistan and Afghanistan were now the only two countries with endemic polio.
The statement said vaccination campaigns in both countries had now resumed after it was paused during coronavirus lockdowns; adding that “until wild polio is eliminated in every country, there is a risk it could spread across borders and proliferate again”.
It said the UK was also funding international efforts to develop a safe, workable coronavirus vaccine that would be available throughout the world – as the biggest country donor to the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI).