WHO Says Polio Outbreak In Angola Must Be Stopped To Avoid ‘International Consequences’

A polio outbreak in Angola, which started in 2007, could have “international consequences” if it is not stopped, Sona Bari, the WHO’s spokesperson on polio eradication, said on Friday, Reuters reports.

There have been 24 reported cases of polio in Angola this year, adding to 29 in 2008 and another 29 in 2009, according to Bari. “It is the only expanding outbreak in all of Africa, spreading both within Angola and into the Democratic Republic of Congo,” she said in an interview. “It’s a high threat to neighbouring countries.” This year, the “Democratic Republic of Congo has had 15 polio cases so far after having just three in the whole of 2009,” the news service writes (Kelland, 10/1).

To address the situation, Angola is launching a polio vaccination campaign for children, the BBC reports (10/1). “From 1-3 October, more than 7 million doses of oral polio vaccine will be used to reach 5.6 million children under the age of five years, nationwide,” according to a Global Polio Eradication Initiative press release. A second vaccination campaign is expected to launch at the end of the month (10/1).

Oliver Rosenbauer, spokesperson for the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, also said the outbreak has “international implications,” noting that “a past outbreak in 2006 spread to Namibia as well,” BBC writes. He added, “If these upcoming immunisation campaigns are effectively implemented, this outbreak can be stopped in its tracks even by the end of the year. Africa is on the verge of being polio-free – and it can be rapidly and realistically achieved” (10/1).  

The current outbreak has endured because of poorly executed vaccination campaigns, Reuters reports. “Polio can only be stopped if every child is given the oral polio vaccine, and campaigns to date have sometimes missed more than a third of children in critical transmission areas such as Luanda,” Bari said.

Efforts to eradicate polio have made progress in other parts of Africa, the news service writes, noting that Nigeria, which is the only African country where polio is endemic, has experienced a 99 percent decline in cases. “Nigeria has had just seven cases so far this year, down from 388 in 2009. ‘The worst story in polio eradication was always Nigeria – and now its the best story in Africa,’ Bari said.”

She added, “There’s not really any reason why Angola can’t do this – its population is less dense than northern Nigeria and it has fewer health and sanitation problems, so it’s really a question of having proper supervision both at national and local levels” (10/1). 

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