Malawi and 4 surrounding countries to launch polio vaccination campaign
Five southeast African countries are set to launch vaccination campaigns against polio after an outbreak was declared in Malawi last month, the World Health Organization said, adding that the continent faces several health challenges as they battle the coronavirus pandemic. are.
Polio is an infectious disease that has no cure and can be fatal or cause permanent paralysis. Vaccines are the most powerful prevention, but the pandemic dealt a severe blow to global efforts to vaccinate children against polio, as well as measles and other diseases, with worldwide coverage for some vaccines not seen in more than a decade. The vaccine alliance, Gavi, said in September that the pandemic caused a global decline in routine childhood vaccinations to 78 percent in 2021, up from 82 percent in 2020.
Malawi announced an outbreak of wild poliovirus last month after it was detected in a child in the capital, Lilongwe. The case was the first detection of wild poliovirus in Africa since 2016, and came nearly two years after the continent was declared free of it. According to the WHO, laboratory analysis linked the strain in Malawi to the one circulating in Pakistan’s Sindh province in 2019, one of only two countries where polio is endemic. The second is Afghanistan.
“This is a dangerous moment,” WHO Africa’s polio coordinator Modjirom Ndoutabe said in a phone interview with Reuters from Brazzaville, Republic of the Congo. “Even if one country in the world suffers from polio, all other countries are in great trouble.”
The polio vaccination campaign will begin in Malawi on Sunday, and will target more than 23 million children under the age of 5 in that country, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia and, later, Zimbabwe. The WHO Regional Office for Africa said in a statement on Friday that the campaign would continue until July, aiming to deliver up to 80 million doses of the oral polio vaccine. “It aims to reach children who are either not immunized, or are only partially protected, and to boost immunity among children who have been vaccinated,” the statement said.
The WHO said Malawi is also stepping up polio surveillance efforts, which have largely lagged behind during the pandemic, in both national and community health facilities.
“The African region has already defeated wild poliovirus thanks to a monumental effort by countries,” Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO’s regional director for Africa, said in the statement. “We have the information and are working tirelessly to ensure that every child lives and thrives on a polio-free continent.”
Concerns over polio have added to the health challenges African countries face from the coronavirus pandemic. According to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the week ending March 13, the continent reported nearly 50,000 new cases, an 11 percent increase from the previous week. More than 500 Kovid deaths also occurred during the same period.
Although COVID vaccines are increasingly available, many people in Africa have skipped shots due to widespread vaccine hesitation, misinformation, logistical challenges and the belief that the pandemic is over as nations ease restrictions. Africa lags behind all other continents in terms of covid vaccination.
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