The World health Organisation declared polio a public health emergency yesterday, following recent outbreaks of the disease in Iraq, Somalia and Syria.
The alarming news comes after a successful 30 year campaign to drive and wipe out the virus worldwide.
Polio remains endemic in many countries including Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan – where militants have targeted and murdered vaccine workers and their guards.
This is the second time the WHO has chosen to declare an international public health emergency. For those travelling from these polio-affected countries, this will mean compulsory checks for certificates of vaccination.
Polio outbreaks were also noted in at least a dozen other countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East, with the WHO describing the phenomenon as an “extraordinary event that requires a co-ordinated international response”.
Pakistan, Cameroon and Syria “pose the greatest risk of further wild poliovirus exportations in 2014,” the geneva-based organisation said.
The WHO data shows that more than 400 cases of polio were reported last year. So far, more than 68 cases were recorded this year by the end of April – up by 24 cases when compared to the same time in 2013.
“If unchecked, this situation could result in failure to eradicate globally one of the world’s most serious vaccine preventable diseases,” stressed WHO Assistant Director General, Bruce Aylward.
Poliomyelitis is a virus that is transmitted through contaminated food and water, multiplying in the intestine. The virus attacks the body’s nervous system causing paralysis in one in every 200 infections and is capable of causing death within hours.
The illness mainly affects children under five years old leaving them with limb deformities for life.
Currently there is no specific treatment or cure for polio but an eradication program began in the late 80’s after the discovery of vaccines in the 1950’s.