In Malawi’s Lilongwe district, Hilda Masamba is being vaccinated against polio. And here’s why that’s unusual. The three-year-old was Malawi’s first case of wild polio in 30 years when she contracted the disease last month, prompting a major immunization campaign by the government and the United Nations.
Her grandmother, also called Hilda, says the three-year-old has been recovering.
“She could hardly move her legs but now with some physical exercises, she is improving. She can crawl and walk, this is a good sign for me.”
Polio is a highly infectious disease that used to kill and paralyze thousands of children every year.
There’s no cure, but vaccination has brought the world close to ending the wild form of the disease. Africa was declared free from wild polio in 2020 and there are only two countries where it is endemic, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The disease resurfacing in Malawi required a quick response, says UNICEF’s country director Rudolph Schwenk.
“It is very important because it is not only a national health concern, it is a regional concern, and it’s actually also an international concern.”
Doctor Modjirom Ndoutabe, polio coordinator for the World Health Organization in Africa, described this as a “dangerous moment”, saying the coronavirus pandemic had slowed efforts to vaccinate children against other diseases, such as polio.
In a bid to stop a resurgence of polio in Africa, 70,000 vaccinators will go door-to-door in Malawi as well as other nearby countries Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The first round began on Monday and will target nine million children in a $15.7 million campaign funded by the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.
The aim across the five countries is to give all children under five the oral polio vaccine, regardless of their vaccination status.