First Wild Case of Polio Outbreak Detected in Africa After Over Five Years

Malawi declares polio outbreak after a case was detected in a young child in the capital Lilongwe, the first case of wild poliovirus in Africa in more than five years.

According to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, the case detected in the southern African country was in a three-year-old girl who experienced onset of paralysis last year. South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed it as type 1 wild poliovirus (WPV1) after virus sequencing.

A statement from the World Health Organization (WHO) said that a laboratory analysis showed the strain was linked to one that has been circulating and still endemic in Pakistan. “As an imported case from Pakistan, this detection does not affect the African region’s wild poliovirus-free certification status,” CNN quoted WHO.

Polio outbreak response


Teams Give Polio Vaccine in Massive Nigerian Innoculation

(Photo : Photo by Chris Hondros/Getty Images)
RIMIN GADO, KANO – APRIL 09: Nigerian field workers for the World Health Organization inoculates a child with polio vaccine April 9, 2005 in Rimin Gado, Nigeria. Polio, a disease that health workers once had hoped to eradicate worldwide by 2005, is on the march again in Nigeria, especially in this region, where local Islamic leaders banned the polio vaccine two years ago over post September 11 suspicions of everything Western. 

WHO declared the African region free from indigenous wild polio in August 2020, however, it remains endemic in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Since the detection was an imported case from Pakistan, it 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 WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti. “Following the detection of wild polio in Malawi, we’re taking urgent measures to forestall its potential spread.”

The last case of wild poliovirus in Africa was identified in northern Nigeria, 2016. Globally, there were only five cases in the year 2021.

Polio coordinator in the WHO’s regional office for Africa, Modjirom Ndoutabe, said that every wild poliovirus case is a significant event and all resources will be mobilized to support the country’s response.

Also read: Scientists Suspect Mysterious ‘Russian Flu’ in 1889 Was a Coronavirus Outbreak

Cure for polio


While there is currently no cure for polio, WHO highly encourages its prevention by administration of a vaccine. Poliovirus is a highly infectious, life-threatening disease that invades the nervous system and infects a person’s spinal cord, causing total paralysis within hours. The country had seen an estimate of 75,000 children paralyzed every year due to polio.

The Global Polio Eradication Initiative Rapid Response team stressed that the disease is a “serious concern and underscores the importance of prioritizing polio immunization activities.” Due to high level of polio surveillance, WHO supports Malawi health authorities in carrying out a rapid response and risk assessment. Surveillance is also being ramped up in neighboring countries.

To ensure no traces of the virus remained on the continent since the last declared case in Nigeria last 2016, WHO waited four years to announce the region polio-free. WHO reports that polio eradication efforts in the continent have prevented nearly two million children from “crippling life-long paralysis” and saved 180,000 lives.

“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,” said Dr. Moeti.

Also read: First-Ever Woman Cured From HIV After Successful Stem Cell Transplant

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