African department of health assembled today to discuss ways to strengthen anti-Wild Poliovirus Type 1 measures in southern Africa, in which the virus has been identified in 2 nations and a multi-country vaccine campaign is underway.
Ministers from Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe met with World Health Organization (WHO) officials, representatives from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, UNICEF, and Rotary International on the sidelines of the World Health Assembly in Geneva (22-28th May). The discussion was about recent wild polio outbreaks and African efforts to eradicate vaccine-derived poliovirus.
Following a wild poliovirus outbreak in Malawi in the month of February, health care workers in the five southern African countries gave over 23 million doses of vaccine to children under the age of five. Mozambique confirmed a case of wild poliovirus on May 18. The 2 cases have been linked to a poliovirus strain that was common in Pakistan in 2019.
WHO and partner agencies are assisting the five southern African countries in coordinating and implementing high-quality vaccine campaigns, that are critical to the virus’s eradication. Aside from vaccination campaigns, the 5 countries are growing disease surveillance to better identify and respond to the virus.
“Till all types of polio are eradicated, all nations remain exposed to outbreaks,” said WHO Regional Director for Africa Dr Matshidiso Moeti. “We must reach every child.” This necessitates careful planning, execution, and supervision.”
Dr. Moeti also recognised contending health priorities, particularly in the context of the Coronavirus pandemic, and praised the region’s countries for their strong political commitment to combating wild poliovirus.
Because the virus strain is not indigenous, the detection of wild poliovirus in Mozambique and Malawi has no bearing on Africa’s wild poliovirus-free certification. After eliminating all forms of wild polio in the region, Africa was declared free from indigenous wild polio in 2020 August.
The transmission of wild poliovirus is lowest of all times, with only 6 cases reported worldwide in 2021. Any imported case of polio must be taken seriously, and immediate efforts to get polio vaccine to every child are crucial to avoid further spread.
Only Afghanistan and Pakistan are currently endemic for wild poliovirus type 1. The poliovirus is extremely infectious, affecting primarily children under the age of five. The disease with no cure can result in permanent paralysis, and it can only be avoided through vaccination.