Malawi has recorded an outbreak of the Wild Poliovirus in the country’s capital Lilongwe after a three-year-old girl was reported to have developed the virus investigated to be similar to a strain circulating in Pakistan.
The highly infectious wild poliovirus, a major cause of total paralysis in children was last detected in Nigeria’s Borno State in 2016. After decades of struggle by the WHO, regional governments and nonprofits to eradicate the virus from the continent, Africa was finally declared wild polio-free in 2020 – A fit that might likely be overturned by the re-emergence of the virus.
The WHO said in a statement that laboratory analysis showed that the strain found in the southern African country was an imported case from Pakistan, where it is still endemic.
Sequencing of the virus conducted in February by South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed it as type 1 wild poliovirus (WPV1).
“Detection of WPV1 outside the world’s two remaining endemic countries, Pakistan and Afghanistan, is a serious concern and underscores the importance of prioritizing polio immunization activities,” the Global Polio Eradication Initiative said.
The WHO shared that even though the continent is advised to launch a rapid response because of a high level of polio surveillance, the new cases in Malawi does not affect the African region’s wild poliovirus-free certification status.
The WHO reports that an estimated 75,000 children have been paralyzed by the disease, while the polio eradication efforts in Africa have prevented nearly two million children from crippling life-long paralysis and saved around 180,000 lives.
Globally, between 1988 to 2021, cases of the virus dropped by 99 percent, from more than 350,000 to just five cases in Afghanistan and Pakistan, according to GPEI data.