Africa’s first wild polio case in five years detected in Malawi

The Global Polio Eradication Initiative said the case in Malawi was in a three-year-old girl who experienced the onset of paralysis in November last year. [Image: courtesy]
LILONGWE, Malawi—Malawi has declared an outbreak of polio after a young child in the country’s capital, Lilongwe, developed the disease in the first case of the wild poliovirus in Africa in more than five years.

Laboratory analysis showed the strain detected in Malawi was linked to one that has been circulating in Pakistan, where it is still endemic, the WHO said in a statement.

Africa was declared free of wild polio in August 2020, and the WHO said that the new case did not affect that status.

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

The Global Polio Eradication Initiative said the case in Malawi was in a three-year-old girl who experienced the onset of paralysis in November last year.

According to WHO, it was giving its assistance to the health authorities in Malawi, carrying out a risk assessment and outbreak response and deploying the Global Polio Eradication Initiative’s (GPEI) rapid response team. It is also stepping up supplemental immunization.

“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 Dr. Modjirom Ndoutabe, polio coordinator in the WHO Regional Office for Africa.

Polio is a highly infectious and debilitating disease that is usually spread through contaminated water or food. Invading the nervous system, it can cause total paralysis within hours.

“The strain of poliovirus detected (in Malawi) is a close match to a strain last detected in a child with paralysis in the (Pakistani) province of Sindh in October 2019,” said Hamid Jaffery, Director, Polio Eradication, WHO Eastern Mediterranean Region.

“Until we stop transmission of polio in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the world remains at risk,” he spoke.