One year ago, I joined African leaders, experts, and global partners to mark an extraordinary milestone in global health. After a decades-long fight, children across Africa were finally free of polio caused by wild poliovirus, a bright moment in a year otherwise darkened by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Wild poliovirus can cause polio, an infectious disease that targets the nervous system and may result in paralysis, or even death. Polio mostly affects children under age 5 and can spread rapidly in areas where hygiene and sanitation can be a challenge. It is transmitted mainly when an infected child sheds the virus into the environment through feces and an unvaccinated child consumes contaminated food or drink, though it can sometimes be spread by a sneeze or cough from an infected individual. Polio cases have fallen 99% worldwide since 1988 and, with the achievement in Africa, the wild form now exists only in Pakistan and Afghanistan.