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Polio outbreak sparks mass vaccination campaign

March 23, 2022

A mass vaccination campaign has commenced in southern Africa following an outbreak of wild polio in Malawi.

Polio outbreak sparks mass vaccination campaign A mass vaccination campaign has commenced in southern Africa following an outbreak of wild polio in Malawi.

More than 80 million doses will be administered to children under 5 years old across five countries following the discovery of a case on February 17 – the first in the country in 30 years, and the first in Africa since the region was certified free of indigenous wild poliovirus in 2020.

Children in Lilongwe, Malawi’s capital, began to be immunised on Sunday as part of a mass drive against the disease. Over the next four months, vaccines will be offered to children across the country and in Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

So far, just one case has been detected in Lilongwe. However, due to the highly infectious and untreatable nature of the disease, there has been an immediate response to halt the outbreak and any further risk of infection.

In addition to the mass vaccinations, environmental surveillance for polioviruses has also been set up in 11 sites across four cities.

Teams in these locations are collecting samples from the environment and sending them to laboratories for analysis, while active surveillance is also underway in health facilities and communities.

The African region was declared and certified as free of indigenous wild polio in August 2020, after all forms of wild poliovirus were eliminated, and the region’s certification as wild polio-free remains unchanged. Laboratory analysis linked the strain detected in Malawi to the one circulating in Pakistan’s Sindh Province in 2019.

There are three variants of the wild or naturally occurring virus, which is the most common type of polio.

Two types have been eradicated (WPV2 and WPV3), while WPV1 only remains endemic in Pakistan and Afghanistan. There is also a very rare vaccine-derived poliovirus, which is a variant of the weakened poliovirus initially included in the oral polio vaccine.

Although polio is highly preventable through vaccination, no cure exists. The viral disease invades the nervous system and can cause total paralysis within hours, particularly among young children.

Related: New mRNA hubs established

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