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WHO warns against new spread of polio

© AFP

Text by Joseph BAMAT

Latest update : 2014-05-05

The World Health Organization (WHO) on Monday declared the spread of polio an international public health risk, urging a swift coordinated response across the planet.

Health officials were worried that they were losing ground gained against wild poliovirus in recent years, despite an initiative to eradicate the disease worldwide.

“This is the first time in a while we have seen transmission in low season,” Gregory Härtl, a WHO spokesman told FRANCE 24 by telephone from Switzerland. “This is basically why the World Health Organization decided to issue the warning.

The WHO said preventative measures were needed quickly with the onset of high transmission season this month.

The international body said it had observed the spread of wild poliovirus in 2014 from Pakistan into Afghanistan, from Syria into Iraq, and from Cameroon into Equatorial Guinea.

“If unchecked, this situation could result in failure to eradicate globally one of the world’s most serious vaccine preventable diseases,” the WHO warned in a statement on its website.

Härtl said that it was impossible to know with full accuracy why the crippling virus was on the rise, but that it was likely related to falling vaccination rates, particularly in Syria and Cameroon.

Vaccination levels have fallen by 20 percent in the past year in conflict-torn Syria, Härtl noted.

Polio cases have decreased by over 99% over the past 25 years as a result of global vaccination efforts, but the disease still exists and has the potential to spread rapidly in unimmunized populations. 

Date created : 2014-05-05

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