Polio outbreak causes public health emergency

Mozambican state health authorities declared a “public health emergency” on Wednesday in an effort to contain a case of wild poliovirus confirmed in a child in the western province of Tete a few days earlier, the agency reported on Thursday. Official Mozambican Press (AIM).

“Faced with this situation, and as recommended by international health regulations, we must declare a public health emergency and strengthen polio surveillance and vaccination measures,” said Mozambique’s national director of public health, Quinhas Fernandes, during a press conference in Maputo. The national capital of Mozambique, May 18.

Mozambican health authorities confirmed on May 18 the case of “wild poliovirus type 1”, the first such infection in the country since 1992, in a child residing in Changara district of Tete province, which borders the Malawi. The strain of poliovirus contracted by the young Mozambican patient is linked to that detected in a young resident of Malawi in February, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

“The virus was found in a child who started suffering from paralysis at the end of March. Genomic sequencing analysis indicates that the newly confirmed case is linked to a strain that was circulating in Pakistan in 2019, similar to the case reported in Malawi earlier this year,” the WHO reported on May 18.

“The case in Mozambique and the previous case in Malawi do not affect the certification of Africa free from wild poliovirus as the virus strain is not indigenous. Africa was declared free of native wild polio in August 2020 after eliminating all forms of wild polio from the region,” the UN public health body noted.

Laboratory analysis of the strain of poliomyelitis confirmed in a patient in Malawi on February 17 found it to be “related to one circulating in Pakistan’s Sindh province”, according to a WHO report from the era. This discovery highlighted the fact that the wild poliovirus remains endemic in only two countries currently: Pakistan and Afghanistan. UN and WHO efforts to eradicate polio in the two neighboring South Asian states have been hampered for years by indigenous skepticism about the vaccines used by global aid agencies to fight against the transmission of the virus.

On February 24, unknown persons killed eight UN polio vaccinators in four locations in northern Afghanistan. Unidentified gunmen shot dead a woman shortly after she took part in a polio vaccination campaign in northwestern Pakistan on March 2.

“There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack,” Reuters noted at the time. “However, activists often target polio teams and the police responsible for protecting them in Pakistan, falsely claiming that vaccination campaigns are a Western conspiracy to sterilize children.”

“Polio is highly contagious and largely affects children under the age of five. Poliomyelitis is incurable and only vaccination can prevent it. Children around the world remain at risk of contracting type 1 wild poliomyelitis until the virus is eradicated in the last areas where it is still circulating,” according to the WHO.


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