Africa: “I Head the Commission to Declare Africa Polio-Free”



Emeritus Prof. Rose Gana Fomban Leke, 2018 Heroine of Health talks about her works thus far.

Professor Rose Leke, tell us more about the work that you have led across global health to merit the award?

I have done a lot. But it is the polio eradication initiative that made me nominated for the award. I currently chair the African Regional Certification Commission for Polio Eradication. It is a commission made up of six members from the six regions of the World Health Organisation (WHO). It is a commission of 16 experts from the six African regions of WHO responsible to lead the continent and the world towards certification. I am the head of the commission responsible to declare Africa polio-free since 1999. This is a lot of work as there are 46 countries in Africa. We have to make sure that each of these countries is polio-free. We carry out country visits, follow-up to be sure polio surveillance is going on well as well as routine immunization, receive and reviews annual reports from each Member State in the Africa region, and scrutinize documentation required to achieve and maintain a polio-free status. We were about to say there is no polio in Africa and four cases were reported from a region in Nigeria. But we are getting towards a polio-free Africa. I also do a lot of work in malaria. Apart from my research works on malaria in the country, I am also in the Malaria Policy and Advisory Committee. It is an expert group that takes the policy on whatever is happening in malaria worldwide. I have moved on to another committee known as the Malaria Elimination Oversight Committee (MEOC). We talk more about eliminating malaria and not controlling. Internationally, I have been Vice Chair of the Global Fund (GF), chairing its Technical Evaluation Reference Group. I also work in health system strengthening as well as a Canadian Health Committee.

What is the impact of your work on the African continent?

Handling polio is a tough task. One needs to be on the ground each time things do not go well in any African country. I am currently preparing a trip to South Africa because there is a problem eradicating polio in the country. From 1988 when the Polio Eradication Initiative was instituted, every country on the African continent was endemic and every year about 75,000 children were paralyzed for life by the wild polio virus. Today, Africa is 99 per cent on the way to being polio- free. No cases of wild polio virus have been detected since 2016. Tremendous progress has been achieved over the past thirty years. The end game is not easy, but it is close. In Africa, one does not see young children paralyzed and handicapped as was the case in the past, and this is really a milestone. Already, my commission has signed a document which shows that the wild polio virus, type 2 is eradicated from the world. Polio has been going on for so long and donors are getting fatigued. We need to completely eradicate it before it is left unfinished.

After receiving several awards like “Heroine of Health, what is next on your agenda?

In fact, I am retired and I consider my current activities as getting into the end of a career. The much recognition warms my heart and I thank God. I have told myself, I just have to keep moving and to encourage the younger generation. I have an initiative in Cameroon known as Higher Women Cameroon in which we bring together younger researchers who are PhD holders or working on their PhD thesis. We train these younger researchers on how to look for funding, how to write papers and abstracts.



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