By Gift Briton

More than 80 million oral polio vaccine doses set to be administered on all children below five years in five southern African countries in a bid to stop the spread of the disease outbreak which was first reported in Malawi in February this year.

With the support of WHO, the four round vaccination drive will see more than 23 million children from Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania and Zambia vaccinated against wild poliovirus type 1 disease (the first case of the disease in Africa in more than five years after it was declared a non-public health issue in the continent on August 2020.)

The first vaccination round is set to begin this Sunday, 20th March, 2022  in Malawi targeting more than 9 million children and the three subsequent rounds, in which Zimbabwe will take part, is set to commence on April running throughout July.

The supplementary vaccination aims to interrupt the circulation of poliovirus by immunizing every child under five years regardless of their previous immunization status.

The drive, which does not intend to replace the routine immunization, will protect the children who have not been immunized and boost immunity among those who have been immunized.

“Polio is a highly infectious and an untreatable disease that can result in permanent paralysis. In support of Malawi and it 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.”

In preparation for the vaccination drives, Malawi has deployed trained surge teams of national officers at district level to facilitate the campaign and ensure that all eligible children are vaccinated and maintenance and repair of cold chain facilities are also ongoing.

Additionally, the country has also established environmental surveillance for polioviruses in 11 sites across four cities including Lilongwe where the first and so far the only case was recorded.

The 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.

According to WHO, polio virus invades the nervous system and can cause total paralysis within hours, particularly among children under 5 years.

The virus which is mainly transmitted from person to person through contamination by faecal matter, can also be transmitted through contaminated water or food, and multiplies in the intestine.

Though polio has no cure, WHO notes that the disease can be prevented through administration of a safe, simple and effective vaccine.

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