South Sudan eradicates wild poliovirus

27 August 2020
a girl showing her finger
UNICEFSouthSudan/Ryeng
Children at Sacret Heart Kindergarten in Juba is showing their "polio finger". Every child who has received the two polio drops get one of their fingers marked, indicated they have received the vaccine.

JUBA, SOUTH SUDAN, 27 August  2020- On 25 August 2020, the African Regional Certification Commission for poliomyelitis eradication (ARCC) officially declared that the World Health Organization (WHO) African Region is free of wild poliovirus South Sudan has hereby joined the group of countries who eradicated wild poliovirus.. The last known case of indigenous wild poliovirus transmission in South Sudan occurred in June 2009. 

The Africa Regional Commission for Certification of poliomyelitis eradication (ARCC) is an independent body that was appointed in 1998 by the WHO Regional Director for the African region to oversee the certification and containment process.

Together with South Sudan, three other African countries had their documents claiming wild poliovirus free status accepted, making the entire African region set to be declared free of wild poliovirus. This will be officially confirmed later this year.

The ARCC decision was made based on extensive review of different data sets including surveillance, routine immunization and polio campaign data and after a verification visit conducted in January 2020 by an ARCC delegation. The ARCC members travelled to Warrap, Jonglei and Western Equatoria states to better understand how the polio programme operates in South Sudan.

“The acceptance of the wild poliovirus free status is a very important milestone in the country’s history of public health”, said Dr Rose Mapour, the National Certification Commission Chair for South Sudan. “However, this is not the end of the work as the wild poliovirus can still be imported from other endemic countries. To maintain the polio-free status we need to increase immunization coverage to achieve required herd immunity. Also, the current level of polio surveillance must be maintained till all countries in the world are declared free of the wild poliovirus. Today as South Sudan documentation claiming wild poliovirus free status has been accepted, I want to express my special appreciation to the polio heroes who lost their lives during various immunization campaigns, the vaccinators, health workers, caregivers and press.”

In addition to the visit of  the ARCC delegation  to South Sudan to verify the accuracy and extensiveness of the national documentation for the polio-free status, a virtual ARCC meeting was held from 15-18 June 2020 where South Sudan, Nigeria, Cameroun and the Central African Republic presented further documentation to support their claims of being wild poliovirus free.

Honourable Elizabeth Acuei Yol, the Minister of Health, and Dr Mayen Machut Achiek, the Undersecretary Min of Health, attended the virtual meeting, as did Dr Olushayo Olu, WHO Representative for South Sudan, representatives of UNICEF South Sudan and the polio committee chairs. All reiterated their commitment to continue to support the polio programme to ensure that not only the country remains wild poliovirus free but also that actions are taken to further improve immunization coverages.

“WHO is committed to support the Ministry of Health to strengthen surveillance for any poliovirus from any source. We will continue to work with the Ministry to ensure that routine immunization coverage increases to strengthen immunity and protect children from lifelong polio paralysis”, said Dr Olushayo Olu, WHO Representative for South Sudan.

In achieving the feat of polio eradication different partners have supported the Ministry of Health of South Sudan via the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) partnership, including the World Health Organization, UNICEF, Rotary International, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. They have worked with the Ministry of Health on surveillance, immunization, polio campaigns and various other aspects of the polio eradication programme.

“This is a major accomplishment for South Sudan and the result of years of hard work of many actors under the leadership of the Ministry of Health. It was only made possible thanks to the long-standing support of donors,” said Dr Mohamed Ayoya, UNICEF Representative in South Sudan. UNICEF will continue strengthening immunization supply chain and un-interrupted supply of vaccines for the routine as well as supplementary immunization activities in addition to creating demand for vaccination among communities. Dr Ayoya added: “South Sudan has now reached another important step towards making the country child friendly. Let us all be inspired by this success to tackle the many other challenges that children continue to face in the country, in the health sector and beyond.”

Note to Editors

Since 1988, when the World Health Assembly passed a resolution to eradicate poliomyelitis, considerable progress has been made towards interrupting the transmission of wild poliovirus (WPV) globally. Independent groups of experts were designated at the global (Global Certification Commission, GCC), regional (Regional Certification Commission, RCC) and country levels (National Certification Committee, NCC) to conduct the process.

Media Contacts

Helene Sandbu Ryeng
Communications Specialist
UNICEF South Sudan
Tel: + 211 921 61 5824
Jemila M. Ebrahim
Communication Officer
WHO South Sudan
Tel: +211 92 164 7859

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For more information about UNICEF and its work in South Sudan visit: www.unicef.org/southsudan

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