Africa is using its polio resources to find creative solutions to the new pandemic. COVID-19 halted employment for many Africans and placed strains on international polio laboratories. These laboratories are members of the Global Polio Laboratory Network. Therefore, health organizations are now using polio resources to tackle COVID-19 in African countries. Already facing many challenges, these groups must balance fighting COVID-19 with continued administration of polio vaccinations.
Polio Eradication in Africa
Vast amounts of global research aid polio eradication in Africa. It is appropriate to alter these successful strategies now to fight COVID-19. In fact, expectations determined that Nigeria would be officially void of the disease between March and June 2020. The World Health Organization (WHO) announced in July 2020 that Nigeria was the last African country where polio was endemic, but that polio is no longer in African countries.
WHO’s Method of COVID-19 Mitigation
WHO is fighting COVID-19 through 16 polio testing facilities across 15 countries. To do so, it reconfigured machines that it originally used to display polio symptoms with COVID-19 data. These cell phone devices have the contact information of outreach teams, making data tracking easier. Another example of Africa’s use of polio resources is an outreach center developed in Brazzaville (2017). The research center assists countries with data-keeping technology to fight COVID-19.
COVID-19 Eradication in Sudan and Somalia
The WHO Polio Eradication Program provides training across 14 states of The Republic of Sudan. This training allows citizens of all seven localities of The Republic of Sudan (Khartoum, Ombada, Omdurman, Karary, Bahri, Sharq Elnil and Jabal Awliya) to assist potential COVID-19 victims. Recipients of the training are front line essential workers trained in healthy behaviors, COVID surveillance and COVID data interpretation. The training sessions empowered over 300 rapid response individuals, all of whom tested satisfactorily while demonstrating their competency.
Current difficulties such as social distancing and the minimal availability of face masks and gasoline make it difficult to continue to serve patients who need polio vaccinations. The short supply of resources also makes it difficult to provide diagnoses to individuals potentially affected by COVID-19. With Africa using polio resources to control COVID-19, polio vaccinations themselves had to take a back seat. These programs will re-obtain regular importance when possible. Many children still need vaccinations regularly to maintain Africa’s ‘eradicated’ polio status or they could be susceptible to the disease.
WHO training in Somalia empowers workers and allows staff to educate the community. Polio teams train and educate Somalians on the techniques and importance of reporting suspected COVID-19 cases. Polio Eradication Program associates can then continue sending feces samples labs for testing. These same techniques used for polio eradication allowed teams to hit the ground running in April of 2020.
The Reason Africa Must Continue to Monitor Polio and COVID-19
While techniques for testing polio and COVID-19 are similar, the diseases are not. Africa, while recently declared free of polio, must continue to monitor both diseases and refocus its attention on polio following the pandemic. Polio has numerous dangers: it attacks children, is highly contagious and leaves individuals paralyzed, all with a high risk of death. Continued vaccinations are the only hope of keeping Africa polio-free.
Polio laboratories need to increase efforts against COVID-19 to regain a singular focus on polio vaccinations. Nigerian President Mohammadu Buhari increased polio funding in 2016. His efforts highlight how ending disease allows a country to continue leveraging those resources. The COVID-19 pandemic is a major obstacle to Africa’s safety from polio.
– DeAndre’ Robinson