28 July 2009
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has lauded South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland for maintaining their polio-free status, while cautioning that the global polio eradication process is not yet complete.
Addressing a gathering of health experts and policymakers in Johannesburg this week, WHO representative Dr Nicholas Eseko said that as long as one child remained infected with the polio virus, children in all countries remained at risk of contracting the preventable, but incurable, childhood disease.
“Although the number of endemic countries has significantly dropped from 125 to four, some of the previously free countries in our neighbourhood have been re-infected in recent years, therefore posing a very real risk to our children,” Eseko said.
“Our responsibility as health professionals and as health managers is to protect our current and future generations from vaccine-preventable diseases.”
Deputy Health Minister Molefi Sefularo said South Africa’s achievement was based on collaboration, dedication and hard work by health workers at all levels.
South Africa spends more than R100-million on its national immunisation campaign every three years, with assistance from the WHO, Unicef, Rotary International, and thousands of volunteers and child care givers.
While this was a major achievement for the country, Sefularo said it was not yet time to rest. “The polio eradication process has yet to be concluded at a global level.”
Eseko said more than five million children who could have been paralysed by polio were free of the virus through vaccination delivered through both routine immunisation and supplemental immunisation campaigns.
“Through the global polio initiative, more children have access to life-saving interventions like measles vaccination, vitamin A supplementation, deworming and bed nets.”