Nearly Extinct Wild Polio Virus Resurfaces in Malawi


Pius Utomi Ekpei/AFP

The nearly extinct disease polio has made an unexpected and unwelcome reappearance in Africa. This week, health officials in the country of Malawi reported a case of wild polio in a young child—the first spotted in the continent in more than five years. World Health Organization officials are now monitoring the situation…

The virus used to infect millions a year and paralyzed tens of thousands of Americans, often children, during major outbreaks around the mid-20th century. With the help of effective vaccines since the 1950s, though, polio has been steadily beaten back. It’s on track to become the second (or possibly third) infectious disease of mankind to be fully wiped out. In 2021, there were only five wild polio cases reported in two countries, Pakistan and Afghanistan, and just a year earlier, the WHO certified that Africa had become wild polio-free, after years of surveillance had found no signs of circulation—both of which makes this recent case all the more disheartening…

“As long as wild polio exists anywhere in the world all countries remain at risk of importation of the virus,” said Matshidiso Moeti, World Health Organization Regional Director for Africa, in a statement. “Following the detection of wild polio in Malawi, we’re taking urgent measures to forestall its potential spread. Thanks to a high level of polio surveillance in the continent and the capacity to quickly detect the virus, we can swiftly launch a rapid response and protect children from the debilitating impact of this disease.”

All you can do is keep at it. Keep vaccinating, keep expanding care and concern in those few parts of the world where this terrible disease remains.

My sister and I were volunteers for the first generation of polio vaccine. I can still see in my mind’s eye the last young man in our neighborhood living out his life on crutches. The last case of polio in the East End of Bridgeport..

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