By Asmau Ahmad
Following the outbreak of polio in Malawi, the World Health Organisation (WHO) says it plans to vaccinate 23 million children under five with 80 million doses of the vaccine in its first round of vaccination in five southern African countries.
Health authorities in Malawi had in February, declared an outbreak of wild poliovirus type 1 after a case was detected in a young child in the capital Lilongwe.
Recall that in August 2020, Africa was declared free of indigenous wild polio after eliminating all forms of wild polio from the region.
A press statement from the World Health Organisation stated that laboratory analysis showed that the strain detected in Malawi was linked to the one circulating in Sindh Province in Pakistan in 2019.
The WHO disclosed that the first phase of the campaign would be targeted at 9.4 million children in Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania and Zambia.
Three subsequent rounds that will follow—in which Zimbabwe will also take part—are set for April, June and July and aim to reach over 23 million children with over 80 million doses of the bivalent Oral Polio Vaccine recommended by WHO for wild poliovirus.
WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, said it is important to act fast as polio is an untreatable disease that results in permanent paralysis.
“Polio is a highly infectious and an untreatable disease that can result in permanent paralysis. In support of Malawi and its neighbours, we are acting fast to halt this outbreak and extinguish the threat through effective vaccinations.
“The African region has already defeated wild poliovirus due to a monumental effort by countries. We have the know-how and are tirelessly working to ensure that every child lives and thrives in a continent free of polio.”
The WHO noted that the mass vaccination or supplementary immunization is aimed at interrupting the circulation of poliovirus by immunizing every child under five years with oral polio vaccine regardless of previous immunization status.
According to the WHO, polio is a viral disease with no cure. It invades the nervous system and can cause total paralysis within hours, particularly among children under five years.
The virus is transmitted from person-to-person mainly through contaminated faecal matter or, less frequently, through contaminated water or food, and multiplies in the intestine. While there is no cure for polio, the disease can be prevented through the administration of a safe, simple and effective vaccine.