Polio case in Malawi takes Africa aback after being declared polio free

Polio case in Malawi takes Africa aback after being declared polio free

After five years of ‘polio-free’ status, Africa has received its first wild polio case from Malawi.

A young girl from Lilongwe, Malawi is facing the adverse effects of the disease which prompted the government to make the drastic decision to declare the outbreak.

“Only one case has been reported, but paralysis occurs in less than one in 200 polio infections.” James Gallegher, a health and science correspondent said in his analysis.

A laboratory analysis statement by the World Health Organisation (WHO) showed that the strain found in the young girl is similar to the one found in Pakistan, where the wild polio is still endemic together with Afghanistan.

“As an imported case from Pakistan, this detection does not affect the African region’s wild poliovirus-free certification status,” said WHO.

In 1996, every African country suffered the polio endemic which caused more than 75,000 paralysis cases. 

Over the decades, the continent has fought against the virus through mass vaccination. In 2020, Africa reached a milestone as it was declared wild polio-free, but the detection of type 1 wild polio case has taken the continent by a storm. 

“Detection of WPV1 outside the world’s two remaining endemic countries, Pakistan and Afghanistan, is a serious concern and underscores the importance of prioritising polio immunisation activities,” the Global Polio Eradication Initiative said.

Polio is caused by a virus that spreads through the fecal-oral route and in some circumstances through contaminated food or water and it mostly affects children under the age of five.

Wild Polio could lead to lifetime paralysis by attacking the nervous system and death if a child has difficulty breathing.

The disease has no cure, yet, vaccines that are administered multiple times have proven to be effective in preventing the transmission of the disease.

The WHO has advised countries to remain vigilant and continue pushing for polio vaccination in order to achieve global eradication.

“The last case of wild poliovirus in Africa was identified in northern Nigeria in 2016 and globally there were only five cases in 2021. Any case of wild poliovirus is a significant event and we will mobilize all resources to support the country’s response,” said Polio Coordinator in the WHO Regional Office for Africa Dr. Modjirom Ndoutabe.

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