Kenya on high alert as Malawi finds Africa’s first wild polio case in five years

Kenya last detected polio in 2014

TOPSHOT - A community health worker delivers a polio vaccine to fight against polio virus which is highly contagious and can cause paralysis and lifelong disability, or even death, during the polio immunization campaign in Kiamako, Nairobi on July 19, 2021.  (Photo by SIMON MAINA/AFP via Getty Images)

Kenya and other African countries are under threat of resurgence of Wild Polio Virus (WPV). This is after an outbreak was reported in Malawi last week.

Health authorities in Malawi declared an outbreak of Wild Polio Virus type 1 (WPV1) after a case was detected in a young child in the capital Lilongwe.

According to a statement, yesterday, by World Health Organisation (WHO), this is the first case of wild poliovirus on the continent in more than five years.

WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, warned: “As long as wild polio exists anywhere in the world, all countries remain at risk of importation of the virus."

Moeti went on to explain that following detection, WHO is taking urgent measures to forestall its potential spread.

"Thanks to a high level of polio surveillance in the continent and capacity to quickly detect the virus, we can swiftly launch a rapid response and protect children from the debilitating impact of this disease,” said Moeti.

WHO said laboratory analysis shows that the strain detected in Malawi is linked to the one that has been circulating in Sindh Province in Pakistan.

Polio remains endemic in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It however, said, as an imported case from Pakistan, this detection does not affect the African region’s wild poliovirus-free certification status.

Polio free status

On August 25, 2020, the region was certified polio free by the Africa Regional Certification Commission for Polio Eradication (ARCC), as Nigeria achieved the wild poliovirus free status.

Nigeria was the last polio-endemic country in Africa and was officially certified free from polio after marking three consecutive years since the last case of wild polio was identified.

Kenya has been free of any WPV circulation since 2014. However, the country and the horn of Africa region continues to be at higher risk of polio due to low immunisation coverage magnified with population movement.

Director-General of Health Patrick Amoth explained that a campaign was carried out last year to vaccinate children under five years in 13 high-risk counties after surveillance teams confirmed six cases of poliovirus from sewerage materials in Garissa and Mombasa.

“Although the case in Malawi is not a source of worry, we have to enhance our surveillance because of our global connectivity. We do not know how many people have come into contact with the genotype in Pakistan,” noted Dr Amoth.

“We are also carrying out environmental analysis of sewer samples in Mombasa and Nairobi,” he concluded.

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