Health authorities in Burundi have confirmed the country’s first polio outbreak in over 30 years. The outbreak was detected following the confirmation of eight samples of the virus, including a confirmed case in an unvaccinated four-year-old child in the Isale district of western Burundi, as well as two other children with whom the child had been in contact. Five samples from environmental surveillance of wastewater also confirmed the presence of the circulating poliovirus type 2.
Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, praised the effectiveness of the country’s disease surveillance and highlighted the importance of timely action in protecting children through effective vaccination. Polio is highly infectious and can be transmitted through contaminated water and food, or by contact with an infected person. Its early detection is critical in containing a potential outbreak. While many people who contract polio do not become seriously ill, some can go on to develop acute flaccid paralysis.
The Burundian Government has declared the detection of the virus a national public health emergency and plans to implement a vaccination campaign in the coming weeks to combat polio. The campaign aims to protect all eligible children, from newborns to age seven. Health authorities, with support from WHO and the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) partners, have also begun investigating the epidemiology of the limited outbreak, including risk assessments to ensure containment.
Burundi is further bolstering its polio surveillance efforts, with WHO experts in the field supporting additional sample collection and assessing the possibility of opening new environmental surveillance sites for early detection of the silently circulating poliovirus. Circulating poliovirus type 2 is the most prevalent form of polio in Africa, and outbreaks of this type of poliovirus are the highest reported in the region, with more than 400 cases reported in 14 countries in 2022. Type 2 infection can occur when the weakened strain of the virus contained in the oral polio vaccine circulates among under-immunized populations for long periods.
The confirmation of the polio outbreak in Burundi highlights the importance of maintaining high levels of vaccination coverage to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. Vaccination is a crucial tool in protecting children and communities from preventable diseases and plays a critical role in global health security.