Mozambique detects polio case as southern Africa steps up immunization

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Mozambique has detected a case of wild poliovirus, the first in 30 years, after neighboring Malawi reported a similar detection three months ago, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced Wednesday.

The case was diagnosed in a child in the northeastern province of Tete. "This is the second imported case of wild poliovirus in southern Africa this year, after Malawi in mid-February," the WHO said.

"The detection of another case in Africa is of great concern, although not surprising given the recent case in Malawi," commented Matshidiso Moeti, WHO's Africa Officer.

Laboratory tests show that the newly confirmed case is linked to a strain that was circulating in Pakistan, as was the case in Malawi.

Africa had been declared free in August 2020 when all forms of wild poliovirus had been eliminated from the continent. It takes no cases for four years to achieve it.

The international organization has increased vaccinations in Malawi and surveillance has been strengthened in neighboring countries. Since the detection in Malawi, southern African countries have launched a vaccination campaign, with Mozambique immunizing 4.2 million children against the disease, according to WHO.

Malawi and its four immediate neighbors - Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe - want to immunize 23 million children aged five and under in the coming weeks.

Polioviruses cause irreversible paralysis and even death. It is transmitted through the stool of an infected person and then contaminates water or food, and multiplies in the intestine. There is no treatment, but vaccination prevents infection and transmission, which has made it possible to virtually eradicate wild forms.

The vaccine was created in the 1950s but remained out of reach in poor countries in Asia and Africa until a major mobilization in recent decades.

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