Uganda’s Ministry of Health on Tuesday announced an outbreak of polio and declared it a public health emergency in the country following the confirmation of lab samples in the capital Kampala.

“The results confirmed a circulating Vaccine Derived Polio Virus Type 2 in Uganda. The virus sequencing test done in South Africa on the two samples showed that the confirmed circulating Vaccine Derived Polio Virus is linked to a circulating cVDPV2 lineage in Sudan,” Director-General of Health Services Dr. Henry Mwebesa said in a statement.

Uganda was declared free of all polio viruses in 2006 but, Mwebesa noted, has been under threat of importations of the virus from other countries where polio is endemic.

Mwebesa attributed the resurgence of polio to reduced immunization rates in the country due to COVID-19 and importation of the virus due to constant cross-border movement involving countries currently affected by polio.

“While mitigating the COVID-19 pandemic, delivery of essential health services including routine immunization have been affected considerably, which implies fewer numbers of children were immunized against the vaccine-preventable diseases. This slowdown has led to a resurgence of polio globally, including Uganda,” Mwebesa said.

Health officials in the country have increased surveillance of the virus by intensifying their search for polio cases in all health facilities. A polio vaccination campaign will also be undertaken in October and December targeting children aged five or below.

“Polio does not respect borders and is spreading fast in the East African region putting children – particularly aged five and below – at the risk of contracting this incurable yet vaccine-preventable disease.”

Though Africa was declared wild-poliovirus free in August last year, there has been a resurgence of polio through a strain known as circulating Vaccine Derived Polio Virus (cVDPV) which affects children in communities with low immunity levels.

According to Mwebesa, more than 19 African countries have declared cVDPV2 outbreaks in the last 12 months, among them the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya and South Sudan, three countries which border Uganda.

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