Southern Africa Declares Victory Over Wild Poliovirus Outbreak

BRAZZAVILLE – In a major victory for public health, a team of independent experts has declared an end to the wild poliovirus type 1 (WPV1) outbreak in Malawi and Mozambique. This milestone marks a significant step forward in the fight to eradicate polio from the African continent.

The last WPV1 case, linked to a strain circulating in Pakistan, was reported in Mozambique’s Tete Province in August 2022. A swift response followed, with a total of nine cases ultimately detected in Mozambique and neighboring Malawi, where the outbreak was declared in February 2022.

Over 50 million children across five southern African nations were vaccinated in a coordinated effort to stop the virus’s spread. The meticulous evaluation by the independent Polio Outbreak Response Assessment Team (OBRA) included field reviews and data analysis, confirming no evidence of ongoing transmission.

Collaboration Key to Success

The successful containment of the outbreak is attributed to the unwavering commitment of African governments, healthcare workers, communities, and partners like the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) and Rotary International. Robust surveillance, effective vaccination campaigns, and strong community engagement were crucial in safeguarding children’s health.

“This achievement is a testament to dedication and teamwork,” said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa. “We commend everyone involved for their tireless efforts. Now, we must strengthen immunization systems, enhance surveillance, and reach every child with vaccines.”

Prevention Remains Paramount

With technical support from GPEI, Malawi and Mozambique have implemented national prevention strategies alongside bordering countries like Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. Over 100 million vaccine doses have been administered in high-risk areas.

“The outbreak closure is a triumph of collaboration between governments, partners, and health workers,” said Etleva Kadilli, UNICEF Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa. “Routine immunization remains crucial; no child is safe until all are vaccinated.”

Enhanced Surveillance for the Future

Fifteen new wastewater surveillance sites have been established in affected countries to detect any silent circulation of poliovirus. Additionally, data management and surveillance efforts have been scaled up to protect children in high-risk areas.

“Closing outbreaks is possible with a rapid and well-coordinated response,” said Dr. Chris Elias, president of Global Development at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “The Southern African region exemplifies the urgency of improving vaccination campaigns and surveillance. Such commitments will lead to a polio-free world.”

Health experts emphasize the importance of continued vigilance, with enhanced surveillance, community engagement, and timely outbreak response remaining critical in the fight against polio.

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