Malawi, polio returns: WHO announcement

Malawi health authorities have declared an outbreak of polio virus type 1 after a case was detected in a child in the capital Lilongwe

Polio in Malawi: first polio case in Africa in more than five years

This was announced in a statement issued by the WHO regional office.

Africa was declared polio-free in August 2020 after the last case was recorded in Nigeria in 2016.

Laboratory tests show that the strain detected in Malawi is related to one that has been circulating in Pakistan’s Sindh province where polio remains endemic as well as in Afghanistan

As an imported case from Pakistan, this detection does not affect the poliovirus-free status of the African region, WHO said.

The wild polio virus has three known variants. Type 2 poliovirus was declared globally eradicated in 2015, type 3 in 2019.

The type 1 variant, the last remaining active in the world, remains present in Afghanistan and Pakistan, while 95 per cent of the African population has achieved immunity and this was one of the conditions that the Commission for Regional Certification of Africa had set before declaring the continent free of wild polio, which indeed happened in 2020.

“As long as polio exists anywhere in the world, all countries remain at risk of importation of the virus,” Dr Matshidiso Moeti said

The doctor is the World Health Organisation (WHO) regional director for Africa.

She added that “following the detection of polio in Malawi, we are taking urgent measures to prevent its potential spread.

With the high level of polio surveillance on the continent and the ability to rapidly detect the virus, we can quickly launch a rapid response and protect children from the debilitating impact of this disease”.

WHO is supporting Malawi’s health authorities to carry out a risk assessment and response to the outbreak, including additional immunisation.

Disease surveillance is also being intensified in neighbouring countries.

The rapid response team of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (Gpei), based at the WHO regional office in Africa, is also deploying a team to Malawi to support coordination, surveillance, data management, communications and operations.

Partner organisations will also send teams to support emergency operations and innovative solutions for vaccination campaigns.

“The last case of polio virus in Africa was identified in northern Nigeria in 2016 and globally there were only five cases in 2021.

Any case of polio virus is a significant event and we will mobilise all resources to support the country’s response,” said Dr Modjirom Ndoutabe, polio coordinator in the WHO regional office for Africa.

Polio is a highly infectious disease caused by a virus

It invades the nervous system and can cause total paralysis within hours.

The virus is transmitted from person to person mainly through the fecal-oral route or, less frequently, through contaminated water or food, and multiplies in the intestine.

While there is no cure for polio, the disease can be prevented through the administration of a simple and effective vaccine.

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Africa Rivista

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