New, ‘explosive’ outbreaks in countries which were previously free of polio means that tackling the disease has entered ‘emergency mode’, according to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.
A new plan has been initiated to boost vaccination in Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan, which are the only countries where the disease is still endemic. According to experts, if the disease is not controlled soon it could “come back with a vengeance”, and the World Health Organization has also issued warnings, saying polio is “at a tipping point”.
New countries around the world have reported instances of polio outbreaks, which is the first time the disease has spread on such a scale in more than a decade. Outbreaks of the virus have been reported in Africa, Tajikistan and China, which is a worrying sign of the geographical spread of the disease.
Bruce Aylward, head of the WHO’s polio eradication campaign, said: “Over the last 24 months on three continents – in Europe, in Africa and in Asia – we have seen horrific explosive outbreaks of the disease that affected adults, and in some cases 50 per cent of them died.
“What it reminded people is that, if eradication fails, we are going to see an huge and vicious upsurge of this disease with consequences that it is very difficult even to foresee right now.”
Children are in a lot of danger from contracting the virus, with Pakistan becoming the key battleground in what has been described as being a “relentless pursuit of the unvaccinated child”. There were over 200 cases of children being paralysed in the area in 2011, which is the worst figure in 15 years.
The Pakistan government has already declared polio to be a national emergency, with an army of 88,000 health workers targeting 33 million children for vaccination. However, this leaves some 750,000 children still to be immunized, which could lead to several outbreaks in the area.