Polio outbreaks hit emergency levels in conflict regions, say experts

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Pakistani infant receives polio vacine
A Pakistani grandmother holds her grandchild still while the receive an oral polio vaccine by a health worker in flood-affected Sain Dad Katohar village in Khairpur district, Sindh province. Image: UNICEF/Asad Zaidi

(WNN) Washington D.C., UNITED STATES, NORTH AMERICA: The advance of polio, especially in regions plagued with conflict-based migration, is on the rise, say experts over at the WHO – World Health Organization. Calling the advance of the disease “an epidemic” WHO provided updates to a Monday April 28 to Tuesday April 29 teleconference that brought together international member experts for what has been designated as the IHR (International Health Regulations) Emergency Committee.

The year so far into 2014 has seen a marked rise in public health risk related to the disease, says WHO.

“The current situation stands in stark contrast to the near-cessation of international spread of wild poliovirus from January 2012 through the 2013 low transmission season for this disease (i.e. January to April). If unchecked, this situation could result in failure to eradicate globally one of the world’s most serious vaccine preventable diseases,” the WHO outlined in a recent release to the press.

Coordinated international and local on-the-ground response is essential, outlines advice made by the Emergency Committee following their assessment of the current spread of polio worldwide.

Located in Central Asia, from Pakistan to Afghanistan, the route of the disease is following the path of travelers. Sections of the Middle East, from Syria to Iraq, as well as Central Africa, especially the region of Cameroon to Equatorial Guinea, are also now considered rising hot-beds for polio.

By the end of 2013 in these regions 60 percent of the world’s polio outbreaks have been caused specifically by migrating or traveling adults, outlines WHO.

But what can be done to stop the spread of the disease?

To halt the public health risk widespread making sure the public receives polio vaccination in areas where the disease has spread is essential, say the experts. This includes the distribution of OPV – Oral Poliovirus Vaccine or the injectable IPV – Innactivated Poliovirus Vaccine that will focus on the global virus transmission zone.

“Pakistan, Cameroon, and the Syrian Arab Republic pose the greatest risk of further wild poliovirus exportations in 2014. These States should: officially declare, if not already done, at the level of head of state or government, that the interruption of poliovirus transmission is a national public health emergency…,” says WHO who also outlined that proof in the receiving of a polio vaccination must be made widely available to individuals in areas of highest risk through an International Certificate of Vaccination or Prophylaxis.

“Afghanistan, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Iraq, Israel, Somalia and particularly Nigeria, given the international spread from that State historically, pose an ongoing risk for new wild poliovirus exportations in 2014,” added WHO.

Following the data on the expansion of polio, global experts do consider the spread of the disease to currently be a global health emergency that requires swift local government action along with international partner response.

Polio, also known as poliomyelitis, is considered to be a highly infectious viral disease that can affect the nervous system in one in 200 cases causing, most often, paralysis in the legs.

“Among those paralyzed, 5% to 10% die when their breathing muscles become immobilized,” adds WHO.

Once contracted the disease, which is predominately found among children, cannot be cured. But it can be completely prevented through proper and timely vaccinations, outlines WHO.

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