Malawi is extending the maximum age of children eligible for the polio vaccination from 5 to 15. Since the discovery last year of its first polio case 30 years after the country eradicated the disease, the number of cases has increased to five this year — the latest victim being 14 years old.
Malawi health authorities made the announcement Tuesday at the launch of the nationwide polio vaccination campaign that is targeting about 9.7 million children.
Beston Chisamile, the secretary of health in Malawi, said the children will be vaccinated on their doorsteps.
“Our health workers will be visiting parents’ homes and vaccinating [children],” said Chisamile. “We are aware that some of them were skipped in the previous vaccination phase, and we want to try and reach the majority.”
Chisamile said the maximum age of children to be vaccinated was extended from 5 to 15 years of age after the discovery of another case this year of a 14-year-old.
Polio is a viral disease that causes irreversible paralysis and has no cure. The disease can be prevented, however, by the administration of effective vaccines.
Thirty years after it eradicated the disease, Malawi confirmed its first polio case in February 2022. Since then, the number of confirmed cases has increased to five.
Malawi is among several countries in Africa that have registered confirmed cases of polio in recent years.
The World Health Organization said in a statement released on August 30 that 187 confirmed cases of circulating variant poliovirus have been reported in 21 countries in the African region.
The WHO said that although the region has been certified free of wild poliovirus, it is witnessing a resurgence of the disease because of a decline in immunization coverage and the disruption of essential health services caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
A push to vaccinate
UNICEF, WHO, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and other partners of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative are leading the vaccination campaign in Malawi.
The UNICEF representative in Malawi, Shadrack Omol, said the United Nations’ children’s agency so far has procured and distributed 10.2 million doses of the polio vaccine across all 29 districts and 865 health facilities in Malawi.
Omol also said UNICEF has installed 250 new refrigerators, repaired 125 broken ones, and distributed essential cold storage equipment.
Health authorities in Malawi have noted with concern, though, that some parents refuse to have their children vaccinated because of cultural and religious beliefs.
Authorities say this will impede efforts to meet vaccination targets.
George Jobe, the executive director of the Malawi Health Equity Network, told VOA that his organization has been educating people about the importance of vaccinating children against polio.
“We still maintain our plea and health education to those who don’t believe in medication that they should be mindful of the right to the good health of their children,,” said Jobe. “The children will make their own choices when they grow up. But at the moment, parents must not apply whatever they believe in on their children.”