Resurgence of Polio, Leprosy; a cause for worry?

Hands of a leprosy patient

In recent months, Malawi has seen the re-emergence of Leprosy and Polio, diseases which were eradicated in the late 90s.

The Southern African country has recorded over 200 leprosy cases in a number of districts including Dedza and a Polio incident in Lilongwe. 

The detection of a Polio case in Lilongwe in February prompted the Ministry of Health to roll out a massive vaccination campaign in under-five children to contain further spread.

Chairperson for Parliamentary Committee on Health Dr. Mathews Ngwale explained that in terms of disease surveillance, the world has developed an every country is alert and interlinked.

He indicated this is done to check when a disease erupts or not, and if does, the whole region is made aware and they cooperate in making sure there is no further spread.

The Chairperson of the Health committee pointed out that for conditions like Cholera and Polio, there were only reported cases which did not reach an epidemic level.

Ngwale: Stressed on the need to ensure the few cases which have occurred do not blow

On the resurgence of Polio, the Ministry of Health and neighbouring countries are cooperating together with the World Health Organisation (WHO) in achieving elimination.

“But more emphasis is on making sure that that case that has occurred or the few cases that have occurred do not blow. Now the numbers are growing because some people are tested and being checked on whether they have the disease or not. So some people who had latent or whose status was not active when you test them, they become positive

“So they’ve been captured during this campaign of testing and checking people, but some of them are not very active. The one that was first spotted, came from outside and as a country we’re trying of course backed by the nations around and also WHO. We have been trying to make sure that that case does not spread,” he said.

Matemba: Need to sustain the gains attained 

The resurgence is however viewed by some health experts as a major obstacle that continues to defeat the country’s disease eradication status.

It’s also seen as some kind of relaxation mode on Malawi’s surveillance efforts in maintaining WHO’s elimination grade.

A community health ambassador Maziko Matemba hinted on robust investment in research as a critical component in sustaining the status.

One of the patients (R) captured at a leprosy village in Utale Balaka

“If indeed we have diseases which we have positioned them to eradicate, we have to make sure that we sustain that gain and making sure that our research institutions, our medical research, but also our Ministry of Health is equipped to be able to monitor to make sure that we don’t see a re-occurrence of those diseases,” he said.  

Malawi attained the WHO leprosy elimination status in 1994.

It is a skin disease caused by mycobacterium leprae and although treatable and preventable, if not attended to, those affected can lose some parts like fingers