Victory over the polio virus in Africa

The World Health Organization (WHO) has announced that there have been no new infections with the poliovirus in Africa for four years. Thanks to many years of large-scale vaccination programs, Africa is now free of the wild-type poliovirus.

The poliovirus is an RNA virus that belongs to the family Picornaviridae. It was first isolated in 1909. It is an enterovirus, which means that infection can arise through fecal-oral contact and that the virus multiplies in the digestive tract. Contaminated water is an example of a source of infection. The dangerous thing about the poliovirus is that it can withstand the acidic barrier of the stomach, and once in the body, it can multiply and spread very quickly through the lymphatic system. If the virus enters the bloodstream and nervous system, it can seriously affect nerve cells and thus muscle control.

Winning over wild viruses

There have been no new infections of the wild type of the virus for more than four years. What does this actually mean, the wild type? There are three naturally occurring variants of the poliovirus: PV-1, PV-2 and PV-3. These three variants, so-called serotypes, all cause the same symptoms, but differ slightly in the structure of the virus' protein coat. These wild types have been eradicated through vaccination in various parts of the world for a long time, and currently also in Africa. PV-1 is the only wild type still found, in some regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Vaccination and coordination

We take a vaccine to make sure that we don’t become ill. So, as a preventive measure. The immune system is put on standby by the vaccine, so that it can act quickly when the actual pathogen enter our body. Vaccines help against infectious diseases caused by viruses and bacteria. Vaccination against the poliovirus dates back to the 1950s, when the American physician Jonas Salk presented the salk vaccine, named after him. This was one of the first vaccines against a virus. It is admirable that Salk did not apply for a patent for this vaccine: according to him it was for the people.

The WHO commends all national governments in Africa, all private organizations and all donors who have supported this long struggle. “Eradicating the wild polio virus in Africa is one of the greatest public health achievements of our time, and provides us all with powerful inspiration to complete the work of eradicating polio worldwide,” said the director of the WHO.