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In an effort to totally eradicate polio from Africa, the World Health Organization (WHO) has launched a real-time innovative mobile surveillance system aimed at strengthening polio surveillance across the continent.

According to WHO, the system is providing valuable and real-time evidence of poliovirus circulation, and helps drive strategic implementation.

WHO, in a press statement issued on Wednesday, said the system is also being used to conduct active surveillance for other diseases, including cholera, NNT, measles, HIV and yellow fever, allowing for rapid response.

The technology was demonstrated at the WHO’s Regional Office for Africa (AFRO) in Brazzaville by a delegation of officials from the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA).

The delegates had received a first-hand demonstration of the ‘real-time’ surveillance system for polio on the continent.

Africa is still one of the continent battling with polio disease. The polio eradication effort is generally supported by key private and public sector partners, including Rotary International.

WHO said the Republic of Korea is a key partner in the effort, having contributed more than US$6 million to the effort, directly through KOICA.

“Support has been strategically allocated to supporting outbreak response and strengthening disease surveillance, and this visit builds further on Korea’s support to the global eradication effort. Strong disease surveillance is the under key strategic strategy, enabling rapid outbreak response as needed,” it said.

Poliomyelitis (polio) is a highly infectious viral disease, which mainly affects young children. The virus is transmitted by person-to-person spread mainly through the faecal-oral route or, through contaminated water or food and multiplies in the intestine, from where it can invade the nervous system and can cause paralysis.

Although many countries in Africa have recorded success stories in their fight against the elimination of wild poliovirus, total eradication of the disease has remained a challenge because many countries are falling short on surveillance and immunisation.

Nigeria is yet to be certified polio-free. It remains the only country in Africa yet to interrupt the spread of wild poliovirus. This is due to the Boko Haram insurgency which has made the region inaccessible for health workers to administer vaccines and ensure extensive surveillance in the region.

Nigeria missed the polio-free certificate in 2016 when a case of polio was reported in Borno State after about 18 months of none reporting. For a country to be certified polio-free, it must have gone two years without reporting a case of polio.

Intensive surveillance is vital for rapid detection of any poliovirus circulating in a locality.

Demonstrating the use the new technology, Pascal Mkanda, head of AFRO’s polio eradication effort said this would assist thousands of medical and health officers dispatched across the continent to health clinics to actively search for cases of acute flaccid paralysis (that is, children with polio-like symptoms).

“Results of visits are communicated right back from the field level to the regional office in real time, via mobile phone technology,” he said.

The technology, developed in coordination with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is part of ongoing efforts to fill remaining subnational surveillance gaps, particularly in the lead-up to potential regional certification of wild poliovirus eradication (which could occur as early as late 2019/early 2020).

Earlier, speaking on efforts geared towards polio eradication across the world, Bill Gates, the co-founder Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, expressed concerns over the hard to reach worn torn areas where polio cases were still been reported. Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria are the only three countries in the world where wild polio remains endemic.

Mr Gates had advocated that an increased commitment and funding to the health sector can go a long way to improving health care delivery an interrupt polio transmission in countries where the disease is still recorded. He said the foundation had been able to employ the use of technology to solve lots of health challenges including getting vaccines delivered to some of the toughest places in the world, including extremely rural areas with no infrastructure, places like Pakistan and Afghanistan and places were wars taking place.

“In the case of polio, we had to use digital satellite data, really understand how many kids were there so we could assign the teams a reasonable set of houses to go visit and make sure that they did. We’ve looked at literally the environment, the sewage systems to find the polio virus,” he said.

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