Polio Outbreak Declared In Papua New Guinea For The First Time In 18 Years

A child on the Afghan-Pakistan border receives an oral dose of the polio vaccine. Asianet-Pakistan/Shutterstock

Robin Andrews 26 Jun 2018, 20:21

An outbreak of polio has been officially confirmed in Papua New Guinea. This is grim news, particularly as the sizable island was declared polio-free for 18 years.

According to various health authorities, the first case of the virus was found in a young boy back in April in Morobe province, and now others in the same community have also been infected. As noted by the Guardian, the vaccination coverage in Morobe province is low, and just under two-thirds of kids receive all three doses.

The country hasn’t got a great healthcare infrastructure and suffers from various hygiene and sanitation problems, which gives this virus – commonly transmitted via the fecal-oral route – a good chance at spreading further. It is, however, explained that it’s unlikely to spread to other countries because of both the nation’s isolation and the high level of immunization found in other parts of the world.

Polio, which only infects humans, is nearing eradication in the wild. Back in 1988, there were 350,000 cases worldwide in 125 different countries. In 2017, there were just 22, all thanks to a worldwide drive led by governments, health organizations, UNICEF, and private partners, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), to eliminate the disease.

The rapid development of two cheap, highly effective multi-dose inoculations – an oral polio vaccine (OPV) and an intravenous, inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) – along with a global surveillance and response program means that the virus is hurtling toward the dustbin of history.

That’s a huge relief, of course: poliomyelitis, as it is known in full, has a range of negative health effects, but the worst is that in one out of 200 cases, it leads to a form of irreversible paralysis. Of those affected in this way, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 5 to 10 percent die as their breathing muscles stop working.

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