Health authorities in Malawi have declared an outbreak of wild poliovirus type 1 in the country after a case was detected in a three-year-old girl young child in the capital Lilongwe. This is the first case in Africa in more than five years.
Africa was declared free of indigenous wild polio in August 2020. This was after eliminating all forms of wild polio from the region. Laboratory analysis shows that the strain detected in Malawi is linked to the one that has been circulating in Sindh Province in Pakistan.
The Malawian authorities are now working to contain any possible spread by boosting immunisation.
Polio remains endemic in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The case was confirmed after tests were carried out on samples from the infected child who was suffering from paralysis, according to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.
Polio usually affects children under five, sometimes leading to irreversible paralysis or sometimes death when breathing muscles are affected.
Twenty-five years ago thousands of children in Africa were paralysed by the virus. But following a mass vaccination campaign across the continent, 95% of the population has been immunised.
it is however not clear when and how the new case in Malawi happened but was linked to one found in Pakistan.
Polio-free certification status
As an imported case from Pakistan, this detection does not affect the African region’s wild poliovirus-free certification status.
“As long as wild polio exists anywhere in the world all countries remain at risk of importation of the virus,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for Africa.
“Following the detection of wild polio in Malawi, we’re taking urgent measures to forestall its potential spread...”
Wild polio is caught from the environment, but there is another type of polio linked to the oral vaccine that is equally worrying.
The last case of the wild polio virus in Africa was identified in northern Nigeria in 2016. Globally, there were only five cases in 2021, according to Dr Modjirom Ndoutabe, Polio Coordinator in the WHO Regional Office for Africa.