Health authorities in Malawi have declared an outbreak of wild poliovirus type 1. The virus was detected in a young child in the capital Lilongwe.
In a statement, the World Health Organisation said that this is the first case of wild poliovirus in Africa in more than five years.
Polio is a highly infectious disease caused by a virus and its last case in Africa was identified in northern Nigeria in 2016 and globally there were only five cases in 2021. In August 2020, Africa was declared free of wild poliovirus.
“As long as wild polio exists anywhere in the world, all countries remain at risk of importation of the virus,” WHO Regional Director for Africa Dr Matshidiso Moeti said in a statement on Thursday.
“Following the detection of wild polio in Malawi, we’re taking urgent measures to forestall its potential spread,” she said.
“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,” she added.
Africa was declared free of indigenous wild polio in August 2020. Laboratory analysis shows that the strain detected in Malawi is linked to the one that has been circulating in Sindh Province in Pakistan.
Polio remains endemic in Afghanistan and Pakistan. As an imported case from Pakistan, this detection does not affect the African region’s wild poliovirus-free certification status.
It affects the nervous system and can cause total paralysis within hours. The virus is transmitted from person-to-person mainly through the faecal-oral route or through contaminated water or food, and multiplies in the intestine.
While there is no cure for polio, the disease can be prevented through administration of a simple and effective vaccine.