Syria Takes Action As Polio Is Confirmed In 10 Children In The Region
October 31, 2013

Syria Takes Action As Polio Is Confirmed In 10 Children In The Region

Lawrence LeBlond for - Your Universe Online

Nearly two weeks after 22 cases of children suffering acute flaccid paralysis (AFP) were diagnosed in the Syrian Arab Republic, an investigative analysis has revealed that 10 have subsequently been confirmed with wild poliovirus type 1 (WPV1).

Oliver Rosenbauer, a spokesman for the World Health Organization (WHO), said last week that the majority of suspected polio cases were from the Deir al-Zor province and most of those infected were children under the age of two and were either un- or under-immunized. Immunization rates in the country have dropped significantly, from 91 percent in 2010 to just 68 percent last year.

Health officials with the national polio laboratory in Damascus, who are continuing their investigation into this dangerous outbreak, said that WPV1 has been isolated in 10 of the cases and final genetic sequencing results are pending to determine the origin of these isolated viruses.

But even before laboratory-confirmation of polio, the Syrian Arab Republic and neighboring countries had already started implementing a comprehensive outbreak response. On October 24, which also happened to be World Polio Day, Syria launched a large-scale supplementary immunization activity (SIA) program to bring vaccinations to more than 1.6 million children to protect them from measles, mumps, rubella and polio.

Implementation of an SIA in Deir al-Zor province commenced rapidly when the first signs of WPV1 infection were suspected. A much larger-scale response is planned for neighboring countries in November 2013, and will continue for six to eight months depending on the continuing need.

On World Polio Day, the WHO announced in its ‘message for the Day' that the world is closer than ever to eradicating polio, despite the continuing risk children are facing, particularly in the Horn of Africa, where the outbreak is now tapering, and amid the new reports of suspected cases in Syria.

“This is no time for complacency, and efforts must be redoubled to ensure this disease is eradicated once and for all. World Polio Day marks the perfect opportunity to remind us of this fact,” said WHO.

In Sudan, the threat of polio has led to the government there to initiate a polio vaccination plan in states where areas controlled by the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement had been cut off from aid since 2011 due to military conflict. The campaign came as part of the UN Security Council’s “grave concern” at the imminent threat of the spread of polio in the region.

“Sudan’s future lies in the health of its children. This is an opportunity for all parties to put children’s health before politics and ensure that this campaign goes ahead without delay,” said UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator, Ali Al-Za’tari.

Vaccinations there are set to be carried out beginning November 5 by WHO, UNICEF, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and partners. The plan is to vaccinate all children under the age of five in these areas.

The WHO reported that in Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan – the last three countries where polio is endemic – cases there have dropped 40 percent from this time last year. A good sign that vaccination programs are working. In Afghanistan, no cases have appeared since November 2012.

In Somalia, however, a two-year-old girl from Mogadishu became the first confirmed case of polio in that region in more than six years, as confirmed in May.

As for the Syria outbreak, the WHO said these are the first confirmed cases in that region since 1999. And giving the current lower percentage rate of vaccinations, the country is on high alert, as there exists a risk for continued infections. Also, the risk of further international spread of WPV1 is considered to be high. A surveillance alert has been issued for the region to actively search for additional potential cases.

WHO’s International Travel and Health recommends that all visitors to and from polio-infected regions be fully vaccinated against the virus.

World Polio Day is celebrated annually on Oct. 24, which marks the birthday of US virologist, Jonas Salk, who led a team of scientists in the development of the polio vaccine in 1955.