Africa reports first polio case in six years

The World Health Organization declared Africa free of wild poliovirus in August 2020.

The WHO said in a statement that a laboratory test found the strain found in Malawi to be related to a strain circulating in Pakistan, where it is still endemic. “As a case of infection imported from Pakistan, this detection does not affect the certification status of the absence of wild polioviruses in the African region,” the WHO said.

The Global Polio Eradication Initiative said the case was a three-year-old Malawian who became paralyzed last November.

Virus sequencing conducted in February by South Africa’s National Institute of Infectious Diseases and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed it to be wild poliovirus type 1 (WPV1). “The discovery of WPV1 outside the two remaining endemic countries, Pakistan and Afghanistan, is of great concern and highlights the importance of prioritizing polio immunization activities,” the Global Polio Eradication Initiative said in a statement.

The WHO said that the African continent will be able to launch a rapid response due to the high level of polio surveillance. “The last case of wild poliovirus in Africa was detected in northern Nigeria in 2016, and in 2021 there were only five infections worldwide. Any detection of wild poliovirus is an important event and we will mobilize all resources to support the country’s response,” said Modjirom Ndutabe, polio coordinator at the WHO Regional Office for Africa.

Polio is a highly infectious disease that affects the nervous system and can cause complete paralysis within hours. While there is no cure for polio, the WHO says it can be prevented by vaccination.

The World Health Organization declared Africa free of wild poliovirus in August 2020 after years of efforts by regional governments and non-profit organizations to eradicate the virus. Before that, on the African continent, about 75,000 children were paralyzed every year.

According to the WHO, efforts to eradicate polio in Africa have saved nearly two million children from lifelong paralysis and saved about 180,000 lives.

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