Africa

Uganda declares polio emergency

A three-month-old Malaysian infant has been diagnosed with polio, the first case reported in the country in nearly three decades, a top health official said on Sunday (Dec 8).

Uganda has announced a polio emergency and blamed the outbreak to the COVID-19 pandemic during which resources were diverted from polio vaccination projects.

The Health Ministry said in a statement on Tuesday that scientists have isolated a polio strain from two sewage treatment plants in the capital Kampala.

The strain, it said, had a genetic linkage to the types reported in Sudan.

“The resurgence of polio in Uganda may be attributed to halt in routine immunisation in the country during the COVID-19 pandemic,’’ the ministry said.

It also said that cross-border movements from neighbouring countries already affected by the polio strain “pose a risk of further polio importation into the country’’.

The Health Ministry had heightened surveillance, instigating a search for all polio cases in all health facilities and investigation of all children under 5 years of age who suddenly got paralysis or weakness in the arms or legs.

The government was also launching a house-to-house national polio immunisation campaign from October to December 2021, targeting children of five years and below, the ministry said.

The wild type of the poliovirus has been considered eradicated in Africa since August 2020.

However, the polio vaccine itself can trigger so-called vaccine poliomyelitis in isolated cases.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), there are currently such cases in 20 African countries, including three countries bordering Uganda.

Polio has been considered a major threat to children worldwide for decades.

The disease attacks the nervous system and can lead to permanent paralysis and death.

Young children under the age of five are particularly affected.

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