Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Health is investigating three suspected cases of polio infections which, if confirmed, will interrupt Africa’s journey towards eliminating the disease.
A Ministry of Health official said that on Friday, three cases of what they believe is Acute Flaccid Paralysis (AFP) were reported in three districts – Kambia, Tonkolili and Western Area Rural.
AFP is a clinical syndrome that refers to a collection of signs and symptoms that experts say could be the result of one of many causes, including the polio virus infection.
Harold Thomas, Communications Lead in the Directorate of Health Security and Emergency (DHSE) in the Ministry of Health and Sanitation (MoHS), said a Rapid Response Team from the ministry has been deployed on the ground in the three districts to investigate.
Samples from the cases have been shipped to Abidjan in Cote d’Ivoire for analysis at the Institute Pasteur, one of two World Health Organization (WHO) certified laboratories in the sub-region with the capacity to confirm a test for polio infection.
“It has not been confirmed [that it is polio] because we do not do polio confirmation here. It is one of those labs [Institute Pasteur], either in Senegal or Cote d’Ivoire, that are accredited to do it,” Mr Thomas said in an interview.
“What we saw is not Polio, it is AFC, and this can be due to Polio, transverse myelitis, Guillain-Barre syndrome, and lots of other diseases. But only the lab can confirm whether it is Polio or not…We can only say it is polio when the test confirms it.”
If any of the specimens sent to Abidjan tests positive for polio, Sierra Leone will have broken Africa’s record of four years and three months without recording a single case of the viral disease.
The WHO Africa region was declared free of wild polio virus on August 25, 2020. That meant that five of the six WHO regions – representing over 90 percent of the world’s population – were free of the wild poliovirus, moving the world closer to achieving global polio eradication. It also meant that up to date, only two countries worldwide continue to see wild poliovirus transmission: Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Nigeria was the last African country to have recorded a polio case in 2016.
Sierra Leone recorded its last case of polio in 2010.
Mr Thomas said just a confirmation of a polio case doesn’t necessarily break this record. According to him, it will depend on whether any of the cases are wild polio.
The official added that the Rapid Response Team will also determine whether the cases are imported or not, in the event the result comes back positive. He said they will also determine whether they are vaccine derived polio by finding out whether the children infected had received the polio vaccine.