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Malawi registers polio case after 30 years

Khumbize Kandodo Chiponda

George Jobe

Government has declared a polio outbreak, the first in Africa in five years and the first in Malawi in 30 years.

The poliovirus has paralysed a three-year-old girl.

Minister of Health Khumbize Kandodo Chiponda confirmed in a statement about the outbreak in one of the districts in the country.

“The Ministry of Health would like to inform the public that it has received a report of one confirmed polio or poliomyelitis case from one of the districts in the country,” reads the statement dated February 17, 2022.

According to Chiponda, poliovirus causes irreversible paralysis disease mainly in children within zero to fifteen years of age.

It also has the potential to infect immunocompromised adults.

“Normally, a child would present to a health facility with acute onset of limb weakness which progresses to paralysis. If it is a leg or an arm, it may become relatively smaller (wasted) than the normal body mass and loses function because it is weaker than the rest of the body,” reads part of the statement.

Posting on his official Facebook page, President Lazarus Chakwera said he had directed the Minister of Health to declare a National Health Emergency following the confirmation of the case.

“This is the first polio case within our borders in 30 years, and it is a threat to our country’s status as a polio-free nation,” Chakwera says in the post.

He indicates that the outbreak compounds the other challenges the country is facing.

“I know it is the last thing any of us would want for our country. We were hit by Cyclone Idai and Kenneth three years ago, hit by Covid-19 two years in a row after that, hit by Tropical Storm Ana in the first month of this year. We are bracing for Tropical Storm Dumako to make landfall and hit us tomorrow [Friday] and now a case of polio has hit us from foreign soil,” reads part of Chakwera’s post.

Health rights activist George Jobe has described the polio outbreak as worrisome.

“This is a sad development because for over 30 years we knew that we had eliminated polio in the country. We commend government for quickly disclosing what has been discovered and for making it a public health emergency.

“What we have to do is raise awareness on what needs to be done and encouraging parents to make sure that children get all the necessary vaccines,” he said.

According to World Health Organisation (WHO), the case has emerged in Africa after five years and has been declared wild poliovirus Type 1.

A laboratory test found the strain to be the same as one circulating in Pakistan, health authorities say.

Afghanistan and Pakistan are the only two countries where wild polio is endemic.

The last known case of wild polio in Africa occurred in 2016 in Borno state, Nigeria. The continent was declared free of indigenous wild polio in 2020.

Polio is a highly infectious disease. The virus invades the nervous system and can cause total paralysis within hours.

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