April 20, 2024

Mozambique declares first polio outbreak in over 30 years despite mass vaccination campaign

FILE PHOTO: A child is given a dose of polio vaccine at an immunisation health centre
FILE PHOTO: A child is given a dose of polio vaccine at an immunisation health centre

Health authorities in Mozambique declared a polio outbreak on Wednesday after confirming a child in the northeastern province of Tete had contracted the disease. It is Moambique’s first wild poliovirus type 1 case since 1992.

Malawi had also declared a polio outbreak mid-February with a reported case in a 3-year-old girl in the capital, Lilongwe, making this the second confirmed case of polio in southern Africa.

“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 Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, World Health Organization Regional Director for Africa.

In August 2020, Africa was declared free of indigenous wild polio after eliminating all forms of wild polio in the region. The WHO also stressed the confirmed cases in Africa will not affect the region’s poliovirus-free certification as the strains are not indigenous to Africa.

Genomic sequencing analysis indicates the two cases from Malawi and Mozambique were linked to a strain circulating in Pakistan, where polio is still endemic. Pakistan and Afghanistan are the only two polio-endemic countries, according to the CDC.

Polio, or poliomyelitis, is a viral disease caused by the poliovirus that invades the nervous system, causing paralysis that can lead to permanent disabilities or death. Polio is transmitted mainly by contaminated water and food, or through contact from an infected person. It is highly infectious and mostly affects children younger than five years. There is no cure for polio.

The strongest front to the disease is vaccination. Malawi’s first and only case in five years prompted a mass campaign to roll out vaccines to more than 23 million children under the age of 5 in Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia and, later, Zimbabwe. The campaign will continue through July and is expected to administer 80 million doses of oral polio vaccine, according to a March 18 statement by WHO.

Mozambique successfully vaccinated 4.2 million children in response to Malawi’s outbreak. WHO is currently investigating in Mozambique to determine the extent of the risk posed by the new wild poliovirus case.

Dr. Norman Matara, head of the Zimbabwe Association for Doctors for Human Rights,  suggested the outbreaks may have resulted from lockdowns implemented while fighting COVID-19. As Today News Africa has previously reported, tens of millions of infants and children have missed out on essential childhood vaccinations due to Covid-19 containment measures.

Since the pandemic began, Africa has seen outbreaks of measles, malaria, Ebola and polio in the region.

“So, we really urge the government that as they fight COVID-19, we should intensify immunization of children especially in those neglected areas so that every child gets immunized. We also urge the government to implement strong surveillance systems, says Dr. Matara.

Health officials from the United Nations say children across the world will remain at risk of wild polio type 1 as long as the virus is not eradicated in the final remaining areas where it still circulates.

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