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Enhancing Surveillance for Polio and AFP in Africa

Building capacity for Polio and Acute Flaccid Paralysis (AFP) response in Africa is a combined effort of partners such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO) and the African Field Epidemiology Network (AFENET) among others.

Visiting the AFENET Secretariat on 2 June  2021, the Polio Senior Program Officer at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Mr. Andrew Stein commended AFENET’s commitment to the polio response, and called for more partnership on surveillance for the growing circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus type 2 (cVDPV2) outbreaks. 

In 2020 WHO recorded  959 human cases of cVDPV2 and 411 cVDPV2-positive environmental samples from 27 countries, of which 21 countries were from the African Region and six countries from reported from the regions of the Eastern Mediterranean, Europe and the Western Pacific. 

“Despite using safety data from Nigeria as a case study, and large scale synchronized campaigns, it is still a large task to bridge the polio gap during the COVID-19 transmission,” said Mr. Stein.

The AFENET Director Dr Simon Antara thanked Mr. Stein for the visit and stated that AFENET through the Global Immunization Division (GID) CoAg has been working to support a lot of vaccine preventable diseases. He reiterated the fact that AFENET has been key in the response to COVID-19 and has worked closely with BMGF, managing COVID-19 funds through the Africa CDC.

“We appreciate the partnership with BMGF, we are committed to delivering on. There is a lot of room to expand in other areas particularly addressing challenges brought forth by the pandemic,” Dr. Antara noted.

AFENET is in the second year of the new Global Immunization Division (GID) 5 year CoAg period. In 2021 the polio CoAg has 41 projects across the African countries most of which in Nigeria. Other projects are measles capacity building.  The biggest work involves outbreak response which primarily focuses on deploying consultants across Africa to support various outbreaks.

The GID’s biggest project is the NSTOP project in Nigeria which has had significant impact on Polio, DHISII, Data management, AFP surveillance in Uganda, Ethiopia and Nigeria particular focusing on silent districts.  With technical and administrative support from AFENET, the Polio COAG employs over 400 staff. 

The AFENET director urged GPEI partners to put emphasis on data management, active search for AFP, and supervision across the region. Dr Antara said”: “What we are envisioning is not just polio but building capacity for immunization in Africa.” 

Present at the meeting were: Dr Simon Antara- Director AFENET, Dr Ditu Kazambu- Head of Programs, Mr. Nicholas Ayebazibwe – Epidemiologist/ Head of GID Project, Dr Christine Kihembo – Epidemiologist, Ms. Beatrice Masika – Finance Manager, Dr. Kevin Mugenyi- Epidemiologist, Mr. Joseph Magoola- Epidemiologist, and Dr Yaya Ballayira - Francophone Outbreak Response Coordinator, AFENET.