Health authorities in Malawi have declared a polio outbreak after a case was detected in a young child in the capital Lilongwe.
This is the first case of wild poliovirus in Africa in more than five years, the World Health Organization said in a statement late on Thursday.
Tests showed the strain detected in Malawi is linked to the one circulating in the southern Sindh province of Pakistan, the only country apart from Afghanistan where polio remains endemic.
Malawi’s Health Minister Khumbize Kandodo Chiponda said the government is confident of containing the outbreak and has started taking steps in line with WHO guidelines.
“The first step is declaring this as a Public Health Emergency. There will be Emergency Operations Committee (EOC) meetings and a risk assessment of the situation will be done with support from our partners such as the WHO,” read a Health Ministry statement.
“We will also work very closely with our neighboring countries, as diseases know no borders … The ministry would like to assure the nation that the situation is under control.”
The WHO said it “is supporting Malawi health authorities to carry out a risk assessment and outbreak response, including supplemental immunization.”
A Rapid Response Team of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative is heading to Malawi, while surveillance of the disease is being ramped up in neighboring countries, according to the WHO statement
Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa, also emphasized the risk of the virus spreading across borders.
“As long as wild polio exists anywhere in the world all countries remain at risk of importation of the virus,” she said.
“Following the detection of wild polio in Malawi, we’re taking urgent measures to forestall its potential spread. Thanks to a high level of polio surveillance in the continent and the capacity to quickly detect the virus, we can swiftly launch a rapid response and protect children from the debilitating impact of this disease.”
Africa was declared free of indigenous wild polio in August 2020, while Malawi achieved that status in 2005.
Since the latest is an imported case from Pakistan, it “does not affect the African region’s wild poliovirus-free certification status,” the WHO said.
“The last case of wild polio virus in Africa was identified in northern Nigeria in 2016 and globally there were only five cases in 2021. Any case of wild polio virus is a significant event and we will mobilize all resources to support the country’s response,” said Dr Modjirom Ndoutabe, polio coordinator at WHO Africa.
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