Malawi Launches the First Round of Vaccination Campaign Against Wild Poliovirus Type 1

Malawi has launched the first round of vaccination campaign against wild poliovirus type 1 using the bivalent Oral Polio Vaccine recommended by World Health Organization (WHO). The campaign is targeting 2.9 million children under 5 years in a four-round vaccination drive after Malawi declared an outbreak on 17 February—the first such case in the country in 30 years, and the first in Africa since the region was certified free of indigenous wild poliovirus in 2020.

More than 80 million doses will be administered to more than 23 million children under 5 years in the four-round vaccination drive in five southern African countries. The first phase of the campaign 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

Mass vaccinations, or supplementary vaccinations, aims to interrupt the circulation of poliovirus by immunizing every child under 5 years with oral polio vaccine regardless of previous immunization status. The objective is to reach children who are either not immunized, or only partially protected, and to boost immunity in those who have been immunized. Supplementary immunization is intended to complement—not replace—routine immunization.

“Polio is a highly infectious and an untreatable disease that can result in permanent paralysis. In support of Malawi and its neighbors, 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 Minister of Health, Honourable Khumbize Kandodo Chiponda, MP said: “The Ministry of Health with support from partners has put in place strategies for eradication of Polio in the country. Malawi will continue to sustain a good coverage of all its vaccine antigen above 80% to prevent and contain vaccine preventable diseases.”

“The High-level political support and leadership of the Govt of Malawi has inspired the nation, the global community as well as in-country partners to act in unison and halt the spread of Polio. I am very optimistic about this national campaign because of the level of commitment and organization I have seen.” In addition to ending polio, another legacy of this massive national effort must be that we strengthen our systems –  to detect all epidemic prone diseases as well as deliver essential health services, including routine immunization,” said Dr Janet Kayita, Acting WHO Representative in Malawi.

UNICEF Representative, Rudolph Shwenk said “No child should die or suffer for life from a preventable disease. Our joint responsibility is to ensure that something as inexpensive, safe, effective and easy to deliver as vaccines – which have already saved hundreds of thousands of children worldwide – reaches those at greatest risk in Malawi.”

“The actions during the campaign this week and the subsequent vaccination campaigns over the next few months are critically important,” said CDC Country Director, Kelsey Mirkovi. “It is up to us to prove to the world that we can vaccinate every child under 5 years old and end this virus here in Malawi, and in all of Africa, once and for all.”

The African region was declared and certified as free of indigenous wild polio in August 2020 after eliminating all forms of wild poliovirus. The region’s certification as wild polio-free remains unchanged. Laboratory analysis linked the strain detected in Malawi to the one circulating in Pakistan’s Sindh Province in 2019.

WHO has been supporting the country to reinforce response measures including a risk assessment disease surveillance, and preparations for the vaccination campaigns. A surge team from WHO is working with country-based counterparts, partner organizations and the government to end the outbreak. The WHO team is part of a broader multi-partner Global Polio Eradication Initiative support to the country.

The country has also now set up environmental surveillance for polioviruses in 11 sites across four cities. They include 3 sites in Lilongwe District that encompasses the capital Lilongwe where the initial, and so far, only case, was detected. Other sites are in Blantyre, Mzuzu and Zomba cities. Teams are collecting samples from the environment and sending them for analysis to laboratories while active surveillance is also underway in health facilities and in communities.

Polio is a viral disease with no cure. It invades the nervous system and can cause total paralysis within hours, particularly among children under 5 years. The virus is transmitted from person to person mainly through contamination hands, water or food by faecal matter. While there is no cure for polio, the disease can be prevented through administration of a safe, simple and effective vaccine

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