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Malawi launches polio vaccine drive after first case in 30 years

The campaign against wild poliovirus aims to reach more than 23 million children under five years old

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ABOUT THIS PROJECTVaccine for the World is a new multimedia project from the Evening Standard. Over the next year, we will explore the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic as it unfolds, with a focus on the vaccine rollout in six African countries. We will highlight the challenges, the potential solutions and the role of London’s scientists and innovators in making a safer world for all. The series is funded by the European Journalism Centre’s European Development Journalism Grants program, which is supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
ABOUT THIS PROJECTVaccine for the World is a new multimedia project from the Evening Standard. Over the next year, we will explore the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic as it unfolds, with a focus on the vaccine rollout in six African countries. We will highlight the challenges, the potential solutions and the role of London’s scientists and innovators in making a safer world for all. The series is funded by the European Journalism Centre’s European Development Journalism Grants program, which is supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
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Malawi has launched a vaccination drive against polio after the first case in 30 years was discovered in a child who was paralysed by the virus.

The campaign against wild poliovirus type 1 aims to reach more than 23 million children under five years old in five southern African countries, said the World Health Organisation.

The virus invades the nervous system and can cause total paralysis within hours. There is no known cure.

“This is why there has to be aggressive action when wild polio is identified, especially as this is an illness that is targeted for eradication,” Dr Janet Kayita, Acting WHO Representative in Malawi.

The first phase targets 9.4 million children in Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania and Zambia. Three subsequent rounds—in which Zimbabwe will also take part—are set for April, June and July.

The supplementary vaccinations aim to interrupt the circulation of poliovirus by immunising every child under five years with oral polio vaccine regardless of previous immunisation status. The objective is to reach children who are either not immunised, or only partially protected, and to boost immunity in those who have been immunised.

“Polio is a highly infectious and an untreatable disease that can result in permanent paralysis. In support of Malawi and its neighbours, we are acting fast to halt this outbreak and extinguish the threat through effective vaccinations,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.

“The African region has already defeated wild poliovirus due to a monumental effort by countries. We have the know-how and are tirelessly working to ensure that every child lives and thrives in a continent free of polio.”

The outbreak is the first in Africa since the region was certified free of indigenous wild poliovirus in 2020. Laboratory analysis linked the strain detected in Malawi to the one circulating in Pakistan’s Sindh Province in 2019.