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The World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF and Rotary International reaffirmed their commitment to sustaining Ethiopia’s polio free status. During an event to commemorate the international world polio day as well as to commend Ethiopia’s achievement in polio eradication initiative, international partners as well as the Federal Ministry of Health reaffirmed their continued commitment to keep the country polio free on Tuesday October 24 at the Ghion Hotel. Ethiopia has been free of Polio for almost four years, since the last polio case was reported in January 2014.
“When we look at our journey towards polio eradication globally, we start with the household. Indeed Ethiopia should be commended for the success recorded in polio eradication. We congratulate that single household down there in the remotest community of this country. Polio eradication has not been easy; but for nearly four years there hasn’t been a single case of polio in Ethiopia. It is a well deserved recognition that this country, as large as it is geographically and as populous as it is in terms of demographics , has been able to keep polio away 3 years and nine months,” said Dr. Akpaka Kalu, Country representative for WHO.
The Global Polio Eradication Initiative was launched in 1988 after the World Health Assembly resolved to eradicate poliomyelitis globally and has since made staggering progress towards reaching the eradication target.
As a result, polio cases globally decreased by 99.9 per cent from an estimated 350,000 cases in 1988, to less than eight today. Furthermore, the number of countries with polio endemic decreased from 125 to only three countries – Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan. Because there are still the three countries where polio still exists, unless they eradicate it as well, any country in the world remains at risk for polio importation; and Ethiopia even more so, due to its geographic location.
“We are not done with this yet, we still have three countries with active transmission so there is still a lot to be done,” pointed out Marise Ricardo, Health Specialist with UNICEF.
With the leadership of the Ministry of Health, the polio eradication initiative has been a collaboration of donors and partners such as Rotary International; Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; WHO; UNICEF; USAID; CDC; CORE Group, among others.
Ethiopia joined the polio eradication initiative in 1996 following the Declaration on Polio Eradication in Africa the same year. Since then, Ethiopia has accelerated implementation of polio eradication strategies through; routine immunization, supplemental immunization activities, acute flaccid paralysis surveillance and mop-up activities in areas with high risk of polio importation and undetected circulation.
“Through those efforts and high commitments from the national and regional governments as well as the contribution of partners, Ethiopia has become polio free since January 2014. This success of polio free status has been recognized and accepted by the African Regional Certification Commission (ARCC). With this success of polio free status, Ethiopia has started transition strategies of assets and functions that we have used for the eradication of polio. It is also incumbent upon the government and partners to ensure that the assets and functions mainstreamed to maintain the polio free status of the country,” said Dr. Kebede Worku, State Minister of Health.
He further underlined that the success is seriously fragile because as long as other countries are affected by the virus, polio will remain a threat. “The volatile situation in the neighboring Somalia as regard to WPV transmission puts the Horn of Africa at serious concern. However, Ethiopia is meticulous in pursuit, in prevention and interruption measures. This is the current polio challenge ahead of us; to sustain the gains and remain polio free,” the minister stated.
PDG Tadesse Alemu Chair of National Polio Plus Committee (NPPC) gave a background history of Rotary’s involvement in eradicating polio at a press conference held the same day at the Ghion Hotel. On behalf of Rotary International he also appreciated the cooperation and team spirit between the Government of Ethiopia and traditional partners.