The World Health Organisation (WHO) says expertise in polio eradication that has put Africa on the verge of being certified free of wild poliovirus has been brought to the frontlines of COVID-19 fight.
The WHO Regional Office for Africa in Brazzaville, Congo disclosed this in a statement posted on its website and also on its twitter handle on Friday.
“While testing is the core of any strategy to contain the virus, the region has had a relatively low number of tests performed.
“Since the outbreak started, nearly two million tests have been carried out in the WHO African Region, with an average test rate of 15.3 per 10 000 population.
“Hundreds of tests are carried out every day using polio testing machines in Algeria, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Nigeria, Senegal and South Africa.’’
The statement quoted Dr Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO Regional Director for Africa, as saying: “in Africa, no one has the footprint of the polio programme nor the expertise for mounting effective response campaigns.
In addition, WHO Geographic Information System (GIS) centre in Brazzaville is using its huge experience in outbreak response and disease surveillance to support countries with a range of GIS and software technology and manual solutions to respond to COVID-19.
More than 2,000 polio response experts from WHO, UNICEF, Rotary, as well as STOP consultants from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are supporting the COVID-19 response in the African Region.
A quarter of WHO polio staff are dedicating more than 80 per cent of their time towards COVID-19 efforts, with 65 per cent anticipating a commitment of six months or more.
The statement further quoted Moeti as saying: “It is important that the support to COVID-19 response does not jeopardize the progress made in stopping all forms of polio transmission in the region.
“The fight against the pandemic should not come at the detriment of other health emergencies.’’
The suspension of high-quality immunisation rounds may risk new polio outbreaks due to low coverage.