News / Asia

    WHO Calls Polio's Spread a Global Emergency

    Police stand guard as a polio worker waits to give polio vaccine drops to children at a street in Peshawar, the capital of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, Pakistan, March 30, 2014.
    Police stand guard as a polio worker waits to give polio vaccine drops to children at a street in Peshawar, the capital of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, Pakistan, March 30, 2014.
    Alarmed by polio outbreaks in Asia, Africa and the Middle East, the World Health Organization is calling for a coordinated international response to stop the spread of the crippling disease.

    The agency, citing a public health emergency, on Monday released a set of recommendations. These included travel restrictions for Pakistan, Cameroon and Syria, countries currently exporting the wild virus that causes the infection.

    WHO's assistant director general, Bruce Aylward, said the situation was particularly serious because the new polio infections have occurred between January and April, traditionally the disease's low transmission season.

    The disease usually affects children 5 and younger and is spread by water infected with fecal matter.

    The number of confirmed polio cases reached 68 last month, compared with 24 the previous year, the Associated Press reported.

    A WHO emergency committee said Camaroon, Pakistan and Syria should ensure that all residents and long-term visitors get immunized against polio before traveling abroad. Travelers should carry a certificate or other evidence they've been immunized, the agency advised. 

    Pakistan, which has the world's highest incidence of the disease, is moving quickly to make polio vaccines mandatory for all those planning to travel out of the country, its national minister of health told told VOA.

    “We were already considering, along with our provincial governments, that we should make sure that all Pakistanis, before leaving Pakistan, should have these polio drops," Saira Afzal Tarar said.
     
    Polio also is endemic in Afghanistan and Nigeria. Its re-emergence in countries where it previously had been controlled -- Camaroon, Equitorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Iraq, Kenya and Somalia -- led the organization to its recommendations.

    Taliban hampered immunizations

    Because of a Taliban ban on vaccinations, and the organization's deadly attacks on anti-polio health teams, national eradication efforts in Pakistan have suffered critical setbacks.

    Tarar said those areas inaccessible to health workers are the main reservoirs of the polio virus. A heavy Taliban presence has all but denied access to the tribal area of North Waziristan.
     
    Pakistan’s prime minister has asked the country’s military to help protect polio vaccination workers in the insurgency-plagued northwest.
     
    Although not legally binding, the WHO recommendations carry a lot of weight, said the organization's acting representative in Pakistan, Nima Saeed Abid.

    WHO expects many of the countries will follow its recommendations, "but it depends on the member state to implement," said Abid. "I do not think member states would ignore these recommendations.”

    The travel measures are expected to remain in place until six months have passed without polio virus exportations.

    VOA's Sharon Behn reported from Islamabad and Lisa Schlein reported from Geneva.

    Sharon Behn

    Sharon Behn is a foreign correspondent working out of Voice of America’s headquarters in Washington D.C  Her current beat focuses on political, security and humanitarian developments in Iraq, Syria and Turkey. Follow Sharon on Twitter and on Facebook.

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    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: shaban from: Islamabad
    May 10, 2014 3:48 AM
    I do not believe that vaccination of adults will help in eliminating poliomyelitis virus. Let me explain why: The virus enters through the mouth and multiplies
    in the throat and gastrointestinal tract, then moves
    into the bloodstream and is carried to the central
    nervous system where it replicates and destroys the
    motor neuron cells. Motor neurons control the
    muscles for swallowing, circulation, respiration, and
    the trunk, arms, and legs. Allah made our immune system which protects itself and other cells by producing antibodies that engage the poliovirus, covering them and preventing the virus from
    interacting with another cells. What the vaccine does is to put a polio virus into our body in an in-active state, so that our immune system recognises the virus from an early stage, and can produce the anti-bodies later in our life, if we are attacked with the Virus. An adult is less likely to get infected, but by taking the vaccine he has high risks of getting VAPP, Vaccine associated paralytic polio, and this is common with people with low immune systems. Statistics shows that proper hygiene was responsible for the elimination of the disease and not any vaccine. While I was in Sudan, the govt. there would spend millions of malaria medicine, but would not bother to open drains and make way for rain water. There would be a puddle of water in front of every house. Proper hygiene and mothers milk is the best vaccine against any infection. But we are ruled by business enterprises who want to make a dime even out of our crap.

    by: Saeed Ikramullah from: Rawalpindi, Pakistan
    May 07, 2014 11:39 AM
    The recent travel restrictions/advisory issued by WHO for Pakistanis traveling abroad is absolutely ridiculous and absurd to say the least. WHO claims to be a champion of eradicating diseases worldwide but this time they have played right into the hands of Taliban and their supporters who do not allow immunization of children for polio virus.

    It is a joke with all Pakistanis even adults who have to be orally vaccinated before their travel abroad. Instead of working with the government here to find ways and means to tackle the menace WHO has taken the easy road to impose travel restrictions. The government here must ensure that all travelers be it foreigners officials or otherwise working in Pakistan to go through this humiliation of oral vaccination at the airports including WHO foreign staff working here should they wish to travel abroad so that everyone is on board including our foreigner friends!

    by: Ali from: Pakistan
    May 06, 2014 4:35 AM
    UN did not condemn the CIA from running false health programmes to identify and kill Osama Ben laden and now wonder why no one believes their 'health' programmes to be genuine! pathetic.
    It is the TTP/ Taliban and their supporters who are responsible for this happening...they attack health workers and kill them thinking as CIA agents like Shakeel Afridi who want to kill them by identifying their leaders DNA. The innocent children are paying the price for adventure and heroism of US troops and CIA agents.

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