WHO applauds SA for achieving polio-free status

Monday, July 27, 2009
By: 
Gabi Khumalo

Johannesburg - South Africa, along with Lesotho and Swaziland, has been applauded by the World Health Organisation (WHO) for achieving a polio-free status.

"I would like to congratulate South Africa, Swaziland and Lesotho for working tirelessly towards achieving polio-free status," said World Health Organisation (WHO) representative Dr Nicholas Eseko on Monday.

However, he warned that these countries must be urged to work just as hard towards maintaining this status because as long as one child remains infected with the polio virus, children in all countries remain at risk for the debilitating disease.

Deputy Health Minister, Dr Molefi Sefularo, said the country's achievement was based on mutual collaboration, dedication and hard work by health workers at all levels.

This could not have been achieved without the ministerial-appointed Polio Committee, WHO, United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), Rotary International and the thousand of volunteers and child care givers who have actively participated in the National Immunisation Campaign.

South Africa spends more than R100 million on its National Immunisation Campaign every three years.

However, while the Deputy Minister said this was a major achievement for the country, it was not yet time to rest. "The polio eradication process has yet to be concluded at global level," he said.

Maintaining and increasing routine immunization should be a priority for every health manager, health professional and all health workers and support staff including the community and village health workers.

"Our responsibility as health professionals and as health managers, is to protect the current and future generations from vaccine preventable diseases," said Dr Sefularo.

The Deputy Minister was speaking during the 3rd Inter-Country Certification Committee Meeting, which was a gathering of policymakers and experts from South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland, WHO and UNICEF to review progress made on the eradication of polio and address issues of polio certification at country, regional and global level.

The primary goal of the Inter-Country Certification Committee is to support countries in ensuring that Polio-Free Certification is achieved.

Dr Eseko said more than five million children who could have been paralyzed by the disease are walking freely and free of the virus through vaccination delivered through both routine immunisation and supplemental immunisation campaigns.

"Through global polio initiative, more children have had access to life saving interventions like measles vaccination, vitamin A supplementation, deworming and bed nets," he said.

Dr Eseko, who was speaking on behalf of WHO country's representative Dr Stella Anyangwe, l said routine immunisation services have been strengthen and opportunities to reach hard to reach communities have been established.

Surveillance of other infectious diseases has been strengthened in many countries, he said.

He reminded the countries to keep in mind that while a lot has been achieved through initiatives, a lot also still needs to be done.

"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," Dr Eseko said

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