Over 33 mn kids vaccinated against wild poliovirus in southern Africa: WHO

Brazzaville, Feb 18 (IANS) A year since Malawi confirmed its first case of wild poliovirus type 1 in 30 years, more than 33 million children across five southern African countries have been vaccinated against the virus, with over 80 million doses administered over the past year, said the World Health Organization (WHO) in a statement.

A total of nine wild poliovirus cases have been reported so far, with one in Malawi and eight in neighbouring Mozambique since the declaration of an outbreak on February 17, 2022, in Malawi, reports Xinhua news agency.

The last confirmed case to date was in August 2022 in Mozambique.

The wild poliovirus in Malawi and Mozambique originated from Pakistan, one of the two last endemic countries, according to the WHO regional office for Africa, based in Brazzaville, the capital of the Republic of the Congo.

Concerted emergency response launched following the outbreak in 2022 has helped increase protection among children through vaccines in Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia, Tanzania and Zimbabwe.

The countries have also ramped up disease surveillance and community mobilization to help find cases and halt the virus.

To date, 19 vaccination rounds have been concluded in the most at-risk areas, and at least five more are planned for 2023 in the five countries.

“Southern Africa countries have made huge efforts to bolster polio detection, curb the spread of the virus and ensure that children live without the risk of infection and lifelong paralysis,” said Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa.

“We continue to support the polio control efforts across the region so that every child receives the protection they need.”

Additionally, more than 10 new environmental surveillance sites have been set up over the past year in the affected countries with support from WHO. The fully operational sites are playing a critical role in the efforts to detect silent circulating poliovirus in wastewater.

“Response teams have worked intensely in the fight against polio not only in Malawi but in the rest of the neighbouring countries in a coordinated manner. We will not rest until we reach and vaccinate every child to stop polio transmission,” said Emeka Agbo, Acting Country Coordinator for the Global Polio Eradication Initiative in Malawi.

Reaching all households where eligible children live is critical to protect them against the risk of paralysis.

The national health authorities, with support from the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, are paying efforts to map cross-border communities, migratory routes, border crossings and transit routes.

Polio is highly infectious and affects unimmunized or under-immunized children.

In Malawi and Mozambique, the disease has paralysed children younger than 15 years. There is no cure for polio, and it can only be prevented by immunization.

Children across the world remain at risk of wild polio type 1 as long as the virus is not eradicated in the last remaining areas in which it is still circulating.

On January 25, the WHO Emergency Committee under the International Health Regulations concluded that the risk of the international spread of poliovirus remains a public health emergency of international concern.

–IANS

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