Polio Cases Seen In Syria Causing Concerns About Wider Outbreak

Polio is one of those diseases that evokes images of days long since past. Its threat to populations has largely been contained, but a recent outbreak in Syria has raised questions about whether it is making a comeback.

Globally, in only three countries around the globe—Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Pakistan—is it considered endemic.

On October 29, the World Health Organization announced that plans to vaccinate 2.5 million young children in Syria and more than eight million others in the region.

“Europe is surprisingly vulnerable. The World Health Organization (WHO) declared its European region, which now spans 53 countries from Portugal to Russia, free of polio in 2002. But many countries have since dropped their guard. Surveillance systems are often incomplete and of poor quality, and suboptimal vaccination rates mean that many countries, including the United Kingdom and Germany, are considered to be susceptible to outbreaks sparked by imported cases, Declan Butler writes in the journal Nature.

Oliver Rosenbauer, who serves as spokesman for the World Health Organization’s Global Polio Eradication Initiative, tells National Geographic that the whole region is at risk because the war has made it difficult for children to be immunized.

With populations traveling back and forth across Syria’s borders, the chance of a larger outbreak increase.

However, notes Diane Cole, it is resurgent in other nations, including Somalia and Kenya.

“And the numbers of those affected in Somalia and Kenya are small—110 as of August 7—with 177 reported cases worldwide so far this year, according to data from the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. In April the group issued a detailed strategic plan to eliminate polio “for all time” by 2018. Fully funded, the comprehensive vaccination and monitoring and surveillance plan would cost about $5.5 billion,” she writes.




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