Africa: WHO Concerned Over Polio Outbreak in Southeastern Africa

(file photo).

The World Health Organization says authorities in Mozambique have declared an outbreak of wild poliovirus type 1 after confirming that a child in the country's northeastern Tete province has contracted the disease. It becomes the second case of wild poliovirus confirmed in southern Africa this year, following a case in Malawi in mid-February.

In a statement, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa, called the outbreak of poliovirus in Mozambique "greatly concerning."

She added that efforts were underway to help strengthen disease surveillance in Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe, with plans to reach 23 million children ages five and below with the polio vaccine in the coming weeks.\

Dr. Ndoutabe Modjirom, the interim polio program coordinator for the WHO Africa Region, said that the first step is to carry out a quality vaccination campaign.

"The second measure is to reinforce the surveillance in all our countries so that they will be able to detect very, very quickly all poliovirus circulating in our region," he said. "We have to extend to all other countries the measure of surveillance. So that measure we have to take very, very quickly to address this situation."

Dr. Norman Matara, head of the Zimbabwe Association for Doctors for Human Rights, said the outbreaks of diseases may have resulted from the lockdowns that countries around the world instituted while fighting COVID-19.

"You know with the pandemic, the lockdowns and clinics shutting down, there is a probability some infants and children might have missed their immunizations schedule and thus we now have these emergency outbreaks; measles in Zimbabwe and polio in Mozambique," he said. "So, we really urge the government that as they fight COVID-19, we should intensify immunization of children especially in those neglected areas so that every child gets immunized. We also urge the government to implement strong surveillance systems."

Last week, Zimbabwe declared an outbreak of measles in a province on the border with Mozambique. President Emmerson Mnangagwa's government said it was working with the WHO to immunize children in the whole country.

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