WHO: New 2014 Polio Cases Threaten Eradication Efforts

The World Health Organization (WHO) says the relatively high number of new polio cases in 2014 threatens the worldwide effort to eliminate the disease.

That declaration came at an Emergency Committee meeting held by the WHO in late April.

Committee members and expert advisors concluded that the number of new polio cases reported in 2014 thus far "constitutes an extraordinary event and a public health risk to other states for which a coordinated international response is essential."

The committee said statistics this year are "in start contrast to the near-cessation of international spread of wild poliovirus from January 2012 through the 2013 low-transmission season for this disease," defined as January to April.

"It was the unanimous view of the committee that the conditions for a Public Health Emergency of International Concern have been met," WHO announced in a news statement.

International travel, WHO added, is facilitating polio's spread.

"At end-2013, 60 percent of polio cases were the result of international spread of wild poliovirus, and there was increasing evidence that adult travelers contributed to this spread," WHO said. "During the 2014 low-transmission season there has already been international spread of wild poliovirus from three of the 10 states that are currently infected: in central Asia (from Pakistan to Afghanistan), in the Middle East (Syrian Arab Republic to Iraq) and in Central Africa (Cameroon to Equatorial Guinea)."

The organization called for "a coordinated international response" to prevent the virus from spreading further, especially as the high-transmission season, defined as May through June, has begun.

"The consequences of further international spread are particularly acute today given the large number of polio-free, but conflict-torn and fragile states, which have severely compromised routine immunization services and are at high risk of re-infection," WHO said. "Such states would experience extreme difficulty in mounting an effective response were wild poliovirus to be reintroduced."

WHO said Pakistan, Cameroon and the Syrian Arab Republic "pose the greatest risk of further wild poliovirus exportations in 2014."

About the Author

Laurie Watanabe is the editor of Mobility Management. She can be reached at lwatanabe@1105media.com.