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WHO Declares Public Health Emergency

File Photo. Farooq Naeem—AFP

File Photo. Farooq Naeem—AFP

Pakistan, Cameroon, Syria urged to ensure residents and long-term visitors receive polio vaccine between 4 weeks and 12 months prior to international travel.

The World Health Organization warned Monday that polio has reemerged as a public health emergency, after new cases of the crippling disease surfaced in a number of countries.

“The conditions for a public health emergency of international concern have been met,” WHO assistant director general Bruce Aylward told reporters in Geneva following crisis talks on the virus long thought to be on the road to extinction. “If unchecked, this situation could result in failure to eradicate globally one of the world’s most serious vaccine preventable diseases,” he added.

The WHO convened the emergency talks last week after the virus was discovered in 10 countries, including three where it is still considered endemic: Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan. In 1988, the disease was endemic in 125 countries.

The decision to categorize polio as a public health emergency brings with it recommendations for countries where the disease is endemic to implement vaccine requirements for anyone wishing to travel abroad. Pakistan, Cameroon, and Syria have been classed as “states currently exporting wild poliovirus.” The WHO has recommended these states “ensure” that all residents and long-term visitors receive a dose of the poliovirus vaccine between 4 weeks and 12 months prior to international travel; ensure that travelers are provided with an International Certificate of Vaccination; and maintain these measures until at least 6 months have passed without any new incidences of the disease.

Afghanistan, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Iraq, Israel, Somalia, and Nigeria, meanwhile, have been classed as “states infected with wild poliovirus but not currently exporting.” These states have also been recommended to issue certification of vaccination and have been urged to “encourage” residents and long-term visitors to receive a dose of the polio vaccine between 4 weeks and 12 months prior to international travel.

Polio, a crippling and potentially fatal viral disease that mainly affects children under the age of five, has come close to being beaten as the result of a 25-year effort. The number of recorded cases worldwide has plunged from 350,000 in 1988 to 417 in 2013, according to WHO data.

So far this year, 74 cases have been spotted worldwide—59 of them in Pakistan, Aylward said.

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