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Rotary statement on wild polio case in Malawi

As a result of ongoing disease surveillance, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) has confirmed a case of type 1 wild poliovirus (WPV1) in a child suffering from paralysis in Malawi. Analysis has shown the virus is genetically linked to WPV1 that had circulated in Pakistan’s Sindh province.

The GPEI is supporting health authorities in Malawi to conduct a thorough assessment of the situation and begin urgent immunization activities to mitigate any risk of spread. Environmental surveillance measures are also being expanded in Malawi and neighboring countries to detect any other potential cases.

Detection of WPV1 outside the world’s two remaining endemic countries of Pakistan and Afghanistan is a serious concern and underscores the importance of prioritizing polio immunization activities in countries such as Malawi to prevent future instances of importation. Rotary has continued strong financial support to Africa since the most recent previous case in Nigeria. During the last two years, 54% of the Rotary PolioPlus budget has supported disease surveillance, outbreak response, the purchase of vaccines and operational expenses throughout Africa.

While the news from Malawi is disappointing, the polio program has seen importations from endemic countries to regions that have been certified wild polio-free in the past, and has moved quickly to successfully stop transmission of the virus in these areas. As an imported case from Pakistan, this detection of WPV in Malawi does not affect the WHO African region’s wild polio-free certification status.

In the more than three decades since Rotary launched its PolioPlus program and formed the GPEI, we have repeatedly stressed that polio anywhere is a threat to children everywhere. The case in Malawi imported from Pakistan underscores the importance of that statement. Now is the time for all parties – Rotary members, communities, government leaders, and global partners – to recommit to ending all forms of polio for good. As Rotary members, it is critical that we ramp up our efforts to raise awareness for the importance of reaching all children with polio vaccines, and continue raising the funds necessary to carry out critical eradication activities to protect vulnerable children and prevent further outbreaks.

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