Outbreak of the wild polio has been declared by Malawi’s health authorities, 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, the World Health Organization (WHO) said.
The strain detected in Malawi, according to a statement by the World Health Organization, was linked to one that has been circulating in Pakistan, where it is still endemic.
“As an imported case from Pakistan, this detection does not affect the African region’s wild poliovirus-free certification status,” the WHO said.
The Global Polio Eradication Initiative said the case in the southern African country was in a three-year-old girl who experienced the onset of paralysis in November last year.
After sequencing of the virus, it was confirmed to be the type 1 wild poliovirus (WPV1).
“Detection of WPV1 outside the world’s two remaining endemic countries, Pakistan and Afghanistan, is a serious concern and underscores the importance of prioritizing polio immunization activities,” the Global Polio Eradication Initiative said.
The WHO said the African continent could launch a rapid response because of a high level of polio surveillance.
“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 Modjirom Ndoutabe, polio coordinator in the WHO’s regional office for Africa.
Polio is a highly infectious disease that invades the nervous system and can cause total paralysis within hours. While there is no cure for polio, it can be prevented by administration of a vaccine, the WHO said.
Africa was declared free of wild poliovirus in August 2020 by the global health body following a culmination of decades of effort by regional governments and nonprofits to eradicate the virus from the continent, which had seen an estimated 75,000 children paralyzed annually.