World Health Organization (WHO) regional director for Africa Dr Matshidiso Moeti on Wednesday warned that children across the world remained at risk of wild polio as long as the virus is not eradicated in areas in which it is still circulating.
She said the WHO is supporting Southern African governments to step up its polio vaccination campaigns to eradicate the virus and protect children.
This follows an outbreak of wild poliovirus type 1 in Mozambique’s Tete province. The virus was found in a child who began experiencing onset of paralysis in late March.
Genomic sequencing analysis indicates that the newly confirmed case is linked to a strain that had been circulating in Pakistan in 2019 and is similar to the case reported in Malawi earlier this year.
This marks the second imported case of wild poliovirus in Southern Africa this year.
“The detection of another case of wild polio virus in Africa is greatly concerning, even if it’s unsurprising given the recent outbreak in Malawi. However, it shows how dangerous this virus is and how quickly it can spread,” said Moeti.
She said investigations are underway in Mozambique to determine the extent of the risk posed by the new wild poliovirus case and the targeted responses needed.
Preliminary analysis of samples collected from three contacts of the newly-detected case were all negative for wild poliovirus type 1.
Moeti said the cases in Mozambique and Malawi do not affect Africa’s wild poliovirus-free certification because the virus strain is not indigenous.
Africa was declared free of indigenous wild polio in August 2020 after eliminating all forms of wild polio from the region.
Mozambique recently carried out two mass vaccination campaigns in response to the Malawi outbreak in which 4.2-million children were vaccinated against the disease.
Moeti explained that efforts are currently underway to help strengthen disease surveillance in Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The five countries will continue with mass vaccinations, with plans to reach 23-million children aged five years and below with the polio vaccine in the coming weeks, she added.