Adaki Kimamu was just two when he survived polio, which left her left leg paralysed.
Stitching rosaries for sale in Nsamala Village, Balaka, the 55-year-old man recalls how the paralysing disease restricted his mobility and chances in life.
“Having lost my limb, I quit school in Standard Five because I couldn’t cope with long walks to school,” he says.
The Catholic beadwork in the staunch Muslim’s hands symbolises triumph over adversity—for the man, who believes disability is not inability, never ever imagined that the disease would become history.
Now, he is excited with the global push to kick out polio by ensuring every child gets crucial vaccines.
He narrates: “I’m human, so I have aspirations in life and a family to feed. Had I not met a Catholic priest who taught me how to make rosaries, I don’t know what would have become of my life—all because of a disease prevented by a jab every child deserves.”
This month, African countries, including Malawi, committed to ending all remaining forms of polio by increasing access to a new vital vaccine.
The governments represented at the 71st World Health Organisation (WHO) Regional Committee for Africa also presented a scorecard to track progress towards the eradication of the virus.
The region was certified free of wild poliovirus one year ago following four years without a case, but outbreaks of circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus (cVDPV) continue to occur in 23 countries where not enough children have received the polio vaccine.
According to WHO, cVDPV cases increased last year partly due to disruptions to polio vaccination campaigns caused by Covid-19.
Since 2018, the continent accounted for more than half of the global 1071 cVDPV cases.
“As chair of the African Union, I am determined to work with other countries to protect the gains of our monumental efforts against polio and finish the job against all forms of this disease in Africa. Only then, we will be able to say we delivered on our promise of a safer, healthier future for all our children,” said Félix Tshisekedi, President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Delegates also resolved to implement the Global Polio Eradication Initiative Strategy launched in June to urgently stop the cVDPVs from 2022 to 2026.
The strategy includes improving the speed and quality of outbreak response, including rapid deployment of surge staff from the WHO regional office to support countries as soon as outbreaks are detected. It also requires governments to integrate polio campaigns in the delivery of essential health services and routine immunisation to reach unvaccinated children, help build trust with communities and improve uptake of the polio vaccine.
Besides, governments are required to expand the rollout of the novel oral polio vaccine (nOPV2) that sustainably end outbreaks of type 2 cVDPV, which are the most prevalent. Currently, only six African countries have rolled out the vaccine with close to 40 million children vaccinated.
“Poliovirus disregards and defies borders. Its presence anywhere in our region is a threat to all countries…With collective action, we will defeat all forms of polio,” said Moustafa Mijiyawa, Togo’s Minister of Health and Public Hygiene.
The scorecard will track indicators for implementation of timely, quality polio response and readiness to introduce nOPV2 as the new vaccine becomes eligible for broader use.
It will also monitor efforts to strengthen routine immunisation to close immunity gaps and transition polio assets into national health systems in a strategic, phased approach.
Ministers of Health committed to regularly reviewing progress together to ensure collective success in securing a polio-free future for every child.
“Our success in ending wild poliovirus in the region shows what is possible when we work together with urgency,” said WHO regional director Dr Matshidiso Moeti.
She urged governments not to relent as some countries paused polio campaigns, working hard to limit Covid-19. This threatened the triumph.
“However, we cannot waver. With renewed vigour, we can overcome the final hurdles that jeopardize our success. We have the know-how, but it must be backed by committed resources to reach all under-vaccinated communities and ensure that all children thrive in a world free of polio. Together, we can help the world achieve polio eradication,” said Moeti.
Almost 100 million African children have been vaccinated against polio since July 2020, after activities were paused due to the Covid-19 pandemic.