- Another time, efforts to eradicate polio worldwide are jeopardised by an outbreak in northern Nigeria. The fresh polio outbreak has already spread to two neighbouring countries; Niger and Benin. A further spread is expected.
The UN's World Health Organisation (WHO) has reported that there has been a nine-fold increase in the number of new cases caused by wild poliovirus type 1 (WPV1) so far this year in Nigeria compared with the same period last year. The West African country now accounts for 86 percent of all the world's cases with that strain of polio.
As on earlier occasions, the polio outbreak started in northern Nigeria, where religious authorities some years ago prevented vaccination efforts. UN health officials are already warning of a potential international outbreak on the scale of the one that started in northern Nigeria and struck 20 countries between 2003 and 2006.
Cases of WPV1 linked to the northern Nigeria outbreak have recently been identified in Benin and western Niger as well. This is a similar pattern to the 2003-06 outbreak that resulted in 1,475 cases in 20 countries, including some as far away as Indonesia and Botswana. High risk countries for an immediate further spread of polio are considered to be Chad, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea and Togo.
WHO said the new outbreak has occurred because as many as one in five children have not been immunised against polio in key high-risk areas in northern Nigeria. Authorities are planning two large-scale vaccination campaigns next month and in August, and similar campaigns are taking place in Benin, Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger.
The UN agency said disease surveillance is also being stepped up across the region in 'at-risk' countries, including in those re-infected in 2003-2006, to try to prevent the outbreak from widening.
Fears are high because of the intensity of the outbreak, the upcoming rainy season – a period associated with increased transmission of the disease – and the anticipated large-scale population movements for the Islamic Hajj to Mecca later this year. Saudi Arabia has been notified of the increased risk of polio infection to Hajj pilgrims.
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