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WHO declares a polio international public health emergency

Tuesday, May 6th 2014 - 06:41 UTC
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Assistant director general Aylward said that 74 cases have been detected this year Assistant director general Aylward said that 74 cases have been detected this year

The World Health Organization warned Monday that polio has reemerged as a public health emergency, after new cases of the crippling disease began surfacing and spreading across borders from countries like Syria and Pakistan.

 “The conditions for a public health emergency of international concern have been met,” WHO assistant director general Bruce Aylward told reporters in Geneva following crisis talks on the virus long thought to be on the road to extinction.

“If unchecked, this situation could result in failure to eradicate globally one of the world's most serious vaccine-preventable diseases,” he added.

The UN health agency convened the two-day closed-door emergency talks last week amid concern that the virus, which currently affects 10 countries worldwide, was spreading.

Between January and April this year -- usually considered the low season for polio transmission -- three new importations of the virus were detected, from Pakistan to Afghanistan, Syria to Iraq and Cameroon to Equatorial Guinea, WHO said.

“A coordinated international response is deemed essential to stop the international spread,” Aylward said.

Polio, a crippling and potentially fatal viral disease that mainly affects children under the age of five, has come close to being beaten as the result of a 25-year effort.

In 1988, the disease was endemic in 125 countries, and 350,000 cases were recorded worldwide, according to WHO data. Today, the virus is considered endemic in only three countries: Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan.

And last year, 417 cases were detected globally, and so far this year there have been 74 cases, 59 of them in Pakistan, Aylward said.

Although the infection rates remain tiny compared to previous decades, Aylward stressed that until the virus is completely exterminated, “it is going to spread internationally, and it is going to find and paralyze susceptible kids”.

“There is always a risk that if the virus is reintroduced to a polio-free area, it could become endemic again,” he said, warning that without eradication, “it could become endemic again in the entire world”.

WHO was especially alarmed that the recent cross-border spread of the disease came during the traditional low season, warning that the situation could deteriorate as the high season begins in May.

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  • ChrisR

    Now I wonder why this is?

    There are two reasons:

    1) The WHO must take some of the blame for crowing about the end of Poliomyelitis BEFORE it has actually happened because a number of western countries relaxed their programmes;

    2) Third world countries like those named do not (for a myriad of reasons) manage to provide the vaccine to the vulnerable.

    Polio is a terrible disease with lifelong disabilities for anybody who survives an attack. When I was very young my best friend had to wear leg irons and walk with crutches at times because of polio.

    Not only that he had idiot children trying to trip him up, until I showed them the error of their ways by kicking the legs from under them so they could see for themselves what it was like to be David. Of course in those days not one child would dare tell their parents what they had done for one simple reason: they would get another thrashing for letting their parents down. Not the case now in the UK, I would have been put into “care” for my “bad” behaviour and the miscreants given a pat on the back.

    These Third World countries are also responsible for their people distributing Tuberculosis around western countries when they migrate. My next door Argentine friend has only this year recovered from the mild version of TB after two years of treatment. At least his doctor recognised the signs, not many of them do.

    May 06th, 2014 - 07:51 pm 0
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