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Nigeria risks resurgence as Malawi finds Africa’s first wild polio case in five years

By Chukwuma Muanya
21 February 2022   |   4:13 am
Nigeria and other African countries are under threat of resurgence of Wild Polio Virus (WPV).

• WHO says detection doesn’t affect continent’s free certification status
Nigeria and other African countries are under threat of resurgence of Wild Polio Virus (WPV).

This came as health authorities in Malawi declared an outbreak of Wild Polio Virus type 1 (WPV1) after a case was detected in a young child in the capital Lilongwe.

According to a statement, yesterday, by World Health Organisation (WHO), this is the first case of wild poliovirus on the continent in more than five years.

WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, warned: “As long as wild polio exists anywhere in the world, all countries remain at risk of importation of the virus.

“Following detection of wild polio in Malawi, we’re taking urgent measures to forestall its potential spread. Thanks to a high level of polio surveillance in the continent and capacity to quickly detect the virus, we can swiftly launch a rapid response and protect children from the debilitating impact of this disease.”

On August 25, 2020, the region was certified polio free by the Africa Regional Certification Commission for Polio Eradication (ARCC), as Nigeria achieved the wild poliovirus free status. Nigeria was the last polio-endemic country in Africa and was officially certified free from polio after marking three consecutive years since the last case of wild polio was identified.

WHO said 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. It however, said, as an imported case from Pakistan, this detection does not affect the African region’s wild poliovirus-free certification status.

The global health watchdog is supporting Malawi health authorities to carry out a risk assessment and outbreak response, including supplemental immunisation. Surveillance of the disease is also being ramped up in neighbouring countries.

The Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) Rapid Response Team, which is based at the WHO Regional Office in Africa, is deploying a team to Malawi to support coordination, surveillance, data management, communications, and operations. Partner organisations will also send teams to support emergency operations and innovative vaccination campaign solutions.

Polio Coordinator in the WHO Regional Office for Africa, Dr. Modjirom Ndoutabe, said: “The last case of wild polio virus in Africa was identified in northern Nigeria in 2016 and globally there were only five cases in 2021. Any case of wild polio virus is a significant event and we will mobilise all resources to support the country’s response.”