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Polio in the African Region, Issue 1 (August 2023)

Aug 04, 2023Aug 04, 2023

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The Polio Lab Network in Africa is a critical component of the Global Polio laboratory network (GPLN), it plays a critical role in the detection and monitoring of polioviruses in the region. The polio laboratory network has made significant progress in Africa in recent years.


The polio laboratories network in Africa consist of 16 World Health Organization (WHO) supported laboratories actively working towards achieving GPLN accreditation. A key focus of ongoing efforts is expanding the workforce while ensuring timely and high-quality services. Other than Zimbabwe, all polio laboratories are actively engaged in diagnosing polio from sewage samples. However, discussions are underway to establish an Environmental Surveillance laboratory in Zimbabwe, marking a significant advancement in the region’s capabilities. Further, the laboratories have shown progress in critical areas, such as swift protocol adjustments to detect the novel oral poliovirus vaccine before its deployment in Supplementary Immunization Activities (SIAs). Laboratory personnel play a dynamic role in Outbreak Response Assessments (OBRAs), actively contributing to recent assessments in countries including Tanzania, Ethiopia, Mozambique, and Zambia.

Successful refurbishment projects have been accomplished, exemplified by completing the Nigeria Ibadan Polio Lab refurbishment and establishing a substantial solar power facility at the Nigeria Maiduguri Polio Lab, both projects supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF).

The momentum for laboratory capacity strengthening persists through the provision of essential equipment, such as Real-time PCR Machines and Genetic Analysers, along with specific supplies and reagents across all 16 laboratories.Notably, working with WHO HQ, the Dubai Hub ensures a consistent and streamlined provision of laboratory supplies, facilitating operational excellence.


As the network expands its efforts, challenges emerge. One pressing challenge is managing an escalating workload with limited resources stemming from the rise in Environmental Surveillance (ES) sample collection sites, pilot testing of polioviruses through Direct Detection (DD), and expanding sequencing capabilities to some laboratories in the region.

Enhancing lab facilities is another priority area, necessitating refurbishing some laboratories and reconstructing others that have seriously deteriorated. During the COVID-19 Pandemic, the network encountered significant stockouts due to heightened demand for laboratory supplies and the redirection of resources to address pandemic-related needs.

Way Forward

To navigate these challenges and further progress, the network has outlined several strategic actions. Expanding and enhancing lab infrastructure, along with enhanced workforce, are paramount. This will require securing increased funding and support from both governments and international organizations. Ensuring the punctual delivery of supplies, including reagents and equipment for direct detection and sequence detections.

The network aims to finalize the recruitment of additional lab staff to effectively manage the heightened workload. Establishing central hubs in Ghana and South Africa for efficient supply stockpiling is a proactive measure, ensuring immediate supply availability for labs in the region. Furthermore, assistance will be provided for lab refurbishment in laboratories that have not yet received such support. The network is committed to facilitating isolate shipment from National polio labs to regional sequencing labs, facilitating comprehensive sequencing efforts.

In addition, the network will aid in the establishment of a new Environmental Surveillance laboratory in Zimbabwe, expanding the region's capabilities. Focused on operational efficiency, ongoing refurbishment projects, including those in Ethiopia and other regions, will remain a priority

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