Malawi has recorded three new cases of polio, bringing the total number of polio patients to four, authorities have confirmed.
While confirming the development Monday, Ministry of Health spokesperson Adrian Chikumbe was quick to point out that the three new cases are imported from Mozambique.
“I can confirm that the country has, so far, registered four cases in total of wild poliovirus type 1 (WPV1). The cases have been registered in the districts of Mulanje, Phalombe and Mwanza, including another case that was detected in Lilongwe,” Chikumbe said.
According to Chikumbe, the Government of Malawi is working hand-in-hand with the Government of Mozambique on the issue of mass vaccination with the aim of interrupting the circulation of poliovirus by immunising every child under five years with oral polio vaccine regardless of previous immunisation status.
He further said Acute Flaccid Paralysis Surveillance and environmental surveillance exercises are currently taking place in the country to detect the physical symptoms of polio, including paralysis and mobility issues.
According to Chikumbe, the environmental surveillance exercise seeks to find samples of human faecal waste and water containing traces of polio.
According to a Polio Situation Analysis Report, the case that has been detected in Mulanje is of a child who came with his parents from Mozambique. The child has a grandparent who stays in Mwanankhu Village in the Southern Region district.
The parents, according to the report, were seeking medical attention for the child at Mulanje District Hospital.
WPV1 poliovirus has resurfaced five years after Africa was declared free of indigenous wild polio in August 2020.
Last month, World Health Organisation (WHO) Representative to Malawi Neema Rusibamayila Kimambo said the circulation of the virus will only be interrupted if the country delivers quality rounds using the house-to-house vaccination strategy.
“I urge all frontline workers, and in particular vaccination teams, to visit all houses, churches, markets, schools and communities along the international border to ensure that all children less than five years old are vaccinated,” Kimambo said.
In August this year, Malawi undertook a third round of vaccination against wild poliovirus type 1 to protect all under-five children.
The Government of Malawi made a declaration of National Public Health Emergency on February 17 this year following the outbreak of Poliomyelitis after a case was detected in Traditional Authority Tsabango’s area, Lilongwe.
This prompted the government to announce that it would embark on a Mass Polio Vaccine Campaign from March 20.
The Episcopal Conference of Malawi (ECM) expressed support for the initiative in a statement dated March 15 2022, and signed by all the bishops in Malawi. The signatories were Archbishop George Tambala of Lilongwe Archdiocese and President of the ECM, Archbishop Thomas Msusa of Blantyre Archdiocese, Bishop Montfort Stima of Mangochi Diocese, Bishop Martin Mtumbuka of Karonga Diocese, Bishop John Ryan of Mzuzu Diocese, Bishop Peter Musikuwa of Chikwawa Diocese and Bishop Peter Chifukwa of Dedza Diocese.
They then appealed to Ministry of Health officials to ensure that the vaccine is locally available so that people do not cover long distances to get it.
The country planned to vaccinate approximately 2.9 million children under the age of five. All children under the age of five were expected to receive four rounds of polio vaccine regardless of prior vaccination status.
The last polio case in Malawi was reported 30 years ago in 1992 and Malawi obtained polio-free status in 2005 while the WHO African Region received its polio free status certificate in 2020.
Polio is an infectious disease caused by poliovirus and can be passed from one person to another through ingestion of food or water which is contaminated with the poliovirus, which causes irreversible paralysis mainly in children.
However, according to statistics, the ministry has 10,000 health surveillance assistants who are supposed to carry out the vaccination exercise across the country. This means the human resource factor can have a bearing on how the country tackles the polio challenge.
Earlier this year, Ministry of Health Head of Malawi’s Expanded Programme on Immunisation Dr Mike Chisema told President Lazarus Chakwera that human resource was one of the challenges facing the campaign as the same healthcare workers were at the time also involved in other competing issues such as floods, Covid, HIV and Aids and tuberculosis response programmes.
Laboratory analyses show that the strain detected in Malawi is linked to the one that was circulating in Pakistan’s Sindh Province in 2019.
Soon after Malawi received preliminary results of poliovirus, the Ministry of Health, with support from WHO, swiftly launched response measures, collecting additional stool samples from contacts of the index case, and shipping them for further analysis, as well as actively searching for possible new cases.