Health authorities in Malawi have declared a polio outbreak after a case was detected in a young child in the capital Lilongwe, the first case in Africa in more than five years.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said in a statement that laboratory analysis showed that the strain detected in Malawi was related to a strain that circulated in Pakistan, where it is still endemic.
“As an imported case from Pakistan, this detection does not affect the African region’s certification status as wild poliovirus-free,” the WHO said.
The WHO said the African continent could launch a rapid response due to a high level of polio surveillance.
“The last case of wild poliovirus in Africa was identified in northern Nigeria in 2016 and globally there were only five cases in 2021,” said Modjirom Ndoutabe, polio coordinator at the WHO Regional Office for Africa.
“Any case of wild poliovirus is an important event and we will mobilize all resources to support the country’s response,” added Mr. Ndoutabe.
Polio is a highly infectious disease that invades the nervous system and can lead to total paralysis within hours.
Although there is no cure for polio, it can be prevented by administering a vaccine, the WHO said.
Recall that in 2020, the WHO announced that polio had been officially eradicated from the African continent.