Maduabuchi Ubani
As Africa records a significant milestone in the polio eradication due to the collaborative efforts of governments, NGOs and the private sector, such as the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), attention is being drawn on other life threatening diseases which should be wiped out in the same manner and strategy.

And so, to reiterate the efficacy of collaboration and dedication to disease eradication, the Ministerial Conference on Immunisation in Africa has recently issued a declaration which should inspire all those concerned for global public health.

The declaration is a clarion call to prioritise universal access to immunisation for Africa’s health and development which should mark the first chapter in the global community’s new strategy for improving health and achieving the new Sustainable Development Goals by the target date of 2030.

While harping on the significance of the declaration and the approach which has not only yielded results but also proved to be of eradicating diseases that have terrorised people for too long, the Rotary National PolioPlus Chair of Nigeria, Dr. Tunji Funsho, announced that the fight against polio, has “yielded significant outcomes, with a 99.9 per cent reduction in global cases from 350,000 children in 125 countries when the Global Polio Eradication Initiative began in 1988, to just 74 in 2015.”

It should be noted that In Africa, 18 months have passed without any polio cases, and last year, Nigeria was officially removed from the list of polio-endemic countries. This effort according to Dr. Funsho “involved the strong political and financial support of national governments, and more than 200,000 volunteers, clinicians, immunisers, town criers and crowd managers to administer polio and other vaccinations, and ancillary health services.”

Although the continent’s achievements in the health sphere is receiving accolades, Dr. Tunji still sees a long way to go before reaching international standards. “Africa’s milestone is of course a great source of personal pride, but most importantly, I see it as a stepping stone to still greater achievements.

“As Africa’s cities continue to experience rapid population growth, they’ll need a system of health care and response that can bear the burden, one that Rotary and its partners in the GPEI are helping to build. The initiative has assembled powerful infrastructures of disease prevention and surveillance, including well-trained healthcare professionals, equipped to respond to international outbreaks. An estimated one-third of the cold chain capacity for storing vaccines in sub-Saharan Africa was created to support polio eradication. And we now have a global network of laboratories, of which 16 are in Africa– developed for polio surveillance – which also tracks measles, rubella, yellow fever, meningitis, and other deadly infectious diseases and will do so long after polio is eradicated.”

“As representatives of Africa, committed to ensuring access to life-saving vaccines, and in our polio eradication efforts, we have taken an important step in ownership and accountability for the continued development of our health systems. This is a step which the international community can help support by providing the resources needed to reinforce this commitment and empower Africa for success,” he added

For the National Polioplus Chairperson, if investment is placed as a priority in the health sector, experts see the gap in maternal and child health, and the impact of infectious diseases between middle income and poorer countries reducing significantly. “By 2035, we could prevent 10 million deaths. And the economic benefits of these lives saved would exceed the costs of investment by a factor of 20. In addition to immeasurable savings in human suffering, eradicating polio could save up to $50 billion by 2035 in direct and indirect healthcare costs,” he enthused.