UN officials have reported a type 1 wild poliovirus (WPV1) in a child suffering from paralysis in Tsabango, Lilongwe, Malawi. Malawi last recorded a case of wild poliovirus in 1992.
The three-year-old girl in Malawi experienced onset of paralysis on 19 November 2021, and stool specimens were collected for testing on 26 and 27 November. Sequencing of the virus conducted in February by the National Institute for Communicable Diseases in South Africa and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed this case as WPV1.
Analysis shows that the virus is genetically linked to WPV1 that was detected in Pakistan’s Sindh province in October 2019.
As an imported case from Pakistan, this detection does not affect the WHO African Region’s wild poliovirus-free certification status officially marked in August 2020.
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. Until polio is fully eradicated, all countries remain at risk of importation and must maintain high vaccination coverage to protect all children from polio.
This is the first case of wild poliovirus in Africa in more than five years.
“The last case of wild polio virus in Africa was identified in northern Nigeria in 2016 and globally there were only five cases in 2021. Any case of wild polio virus is a significant event and we will mobilize all resources to support the country’s response,” said Dr Modjirom Ndoutabe, Polio Coordinator in the WHO Regional Office for Africa.
Polio is a highly infectious disease caused by a virus. It invades the nervous system and can cause total paralysis within hours. The virus is transmitted from person-to-person mainly through the faecal-oral route 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 administration of a simple and effective vaccine.