Health authorities in Mozambique on Wednesday declared an outbreak of wild poliovirus type 1 after confirming that a child in the country’s north-eastern Tete province had contracted the disease. According to a press statement by World Health Organization (WHO), this marks the second imported case of wild poliovirus in southern Africa this year, following an outbreak in Malawi in mid-February.
So far, one case has been detected in Mozambique which is the country’s first since 1992. According to the country’s health officials, the virus was found in a child who began experiencing the onset of paralysis in late March. “Genomic sequencing analysis indicates that the newly confirmed case is linked to a strain that had been circulating in Pakistan in 2019, similar to the case reported in Malawi earlier this year,” WHO stated.
However, the case reported in Mozambique and the earlier one in Malawi do not affect Africa’s wild poliovirus-free certification as the virus strain is not indigenous. In August 2020, Africa was declared free of indigenous wild polio after eliminating all forms of wild polio from the region.
“The detection of another case of wild poliovirus in Africa is greatly concerning, even if it’s unsurprising given the recent outbreak in Malawi. However, it shows how dangerous this virus is and how quickly it can spread. We are supporting southern African governments to step up the polio fight including carrying out large-scale, effective vaccination campaigns to halt the virus and protect children from its damaging impact,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, World Health Organization Regional Director for Africa.
Meanwhile, health officials are conducting an investigation in Mozambique to determine the extent of the risk posed by the new wild poliovirus case and the targeted responses required. Additionally, preliminary analysis of samples collected from three contacts of the newly-detected case were all negative for wild poliovirus type 1.
The global health agency also stated that Mozambique recently carried out two mass vaccination campaigns – in response to the Malawi outbreak – in which 4.2 million children were vaccinated against the disease. Moreover, Efforts are currently underway to help strengthen disease surveillance in Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The five countries will continue with mass vaccinations, with plans to reach 23 million children aged five years and below with the polio vaccine in the coming weeks, WHO stated.
The wild poliovirus is endemic only in Afghanistan and Pakistan globally. According to health experts, Polio is highly infectious and largely affects children younger than five years. There is no cure for polio, and it can only be prevented by immunisation. WHO also cautioned that 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.