MALAWI – The Malawian Ministry of Health and partners are ramping up disease surveillance and deepening investigations after the country detected a case of wild poliovirus which is the first of its kind in Africa since 2016.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the African region was declared and certified as free of indigenous wild polio in August 2020 after eliminating all forms of wild poliovirus.

The Ministry of Health partnered with WHO after Malawi received preliminary results of poliovirus to swiftly launch response measures, collect additional stool samples from contacts of the index case and ship them for further analysis.

Laboratory analysis linked the strain detected in Malawi to the one circulating in Pakistan’s Sindh Province in 2019 and it is the first case of wild poliovirus in Malawi since 1992.

Determining the extent of the risk and searching for any further wild poliovirus cases are crucial steps for an effective response to contain the spread of the virus and protect children from its debilitating impact,” details a statement by WHO Regional Office for Africa.

Health expert teams from the WHO Regional Office for Africa were deployed to Malawi within days of the wild polio outbreak being declared to support key response measures against the outbreak.

The WHO team is part of a broader multi-partner Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) support to Malawi and the surge team of six incorporates a coordinator, a technical and operations expert, surveillance experts and a data manager,” the statement revealed.

The significant response measures include setting up a fully functional environmental surveillance system and complement clinical acute flaccid paralysis surveillance for possible polio cases.

Polio emergency response teams are identifying suitable wastewater locations to serve as environmental surveillance sites along with training responders at national and local levels to collect and package samples for shipping and analysis.

The polio response teams have undertaken a risk assessment which includes detailed disease investigation, epidemiological surveillance assessment and analyzing factors that can hinder or ease response operations,” the statement further outlined.

Environmental surveillance for polioviruses has been established in six sites in two districts including Lilongwe District that encompasses the capital Lilongwe where the initial case was detected as well as sites in Blantyre, Mzuzu and Zomba cities.

Malawi has also scheduled a mass supplemental polio vaccination response targeting under-five children using the Bivalent Oral Polio Vaccine recommended by WHO and the GPEI partners for wild poliovirus (type 1).

The Health Ministry has planned four rounds of polio vaccination campaigns while neighboring countries such as Mozambique, Tanzania and Zambia have been alerted in order to conduct immunization campaigns as well.

The quality of the vaccination campaign is essential to interrupt transmission of poliovirus from child to child and it is crucial to ensure that the vaccination rounds reach every child,” said Deputy Minister of Health, Enock Phale.

He urged political leaders, religious leaders and community leaders to support the government in encouraging communities to take part in the polio eradication activities by taking their children for the routine polio immunization.

In addition, Malawi has commenced public awareness campaigns about wild polio to alert the public of the wild poliovirus outbreak and describe the planned response to halt the virus.

The awareness campaigns also aim to provide information about poliovirus and the vaccine for the virus in Malawi’s efforts to contain the virus.

The Health Ministry is educating the media and the public about the polio outbreak so that they can also report any suspected cases.

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