Straits Herald December 10, 2019

The Ministry of Health of Malaysia yesterday announced a case of polio in Tuaran District in Sabah state, Malaysia. Testing has confirmed that the virus is genetically linked to poliovirus currently circulating in the southern Philippines.

A health worker administers polio vaccine on a child during a government-run vaccination drive in Manila on October 14, 2019. The Philippines on September 2019 detected its first case of polio since 2001. (Photo by Ted ALJIBE / AFP)

The patient, a 3-month-old male child, developed fever and paralysis on 26 October. On 6 December, testing conducted by the World Health Organization’s Regional Polio Reference Laboratory in Melbourne, Australia, confirmed that poliovirus is the cause of the child’s illness. The last case of this highly infectious disease in Malaysia was in 1992.

“We are deeply concerned about the confirmed case of polio in Sabah,” said Dr Ying-Ru Lo, WHO Representative in Malaysia.

“WHO, alongside UNICEF, stands ready to support the Ministry of Health in responding to this outbreak and ensuring that all children in Malaysia receive the full protection of polio vaccines.”

“The only effective way to protect children from polio is vaccination,” said Marianne Clark-Hattingh, UNICEF Representative in Malaysia.

“We must make it a priority to stop its transmission so that every child, regardless of their economic status or origin, is protected against this terrible disease.”

Polio spreads in populations with low immunization coverage. The virus has the potential to cause paralysis or occasionally death. The case of polio from Sabah is a rare strain of poliovirus called circulating vaccine-derived polio (cVDPV) Type 1. These polio viruses only occur if a population is seriously under-immunized. 

The Sabah polio case is genetically linked to the ongoing poliovirus circulation in the southern Philippines, which declared an outbreak of polio on 19 September 2019. WHO and UNICEF have been providing technical advice on the outbreak response, on-the-ground monitoring and support for risk communication. 

Public health advice

Children are most at risk of polio. Parents and caregivers should ensure that all children under the age of 5 years are vaccinated.

Polio vaccines are extremely safe and effective and have resulted in global cases decreasing by over 99%. Polio vaccines must be administered multiple times to stop outbreaks and protect children.