Polio Makes a Comeback as a World Health Emergency

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It was considered a health care issue that was under control and nearly eradicated, but now the World Health Organization is saying that Polio has made a comeback in a big way. The WHO is sounding the alarm of a global health emergency as cases of polio are back on the rise.

According to the World Health Organization, an increase in cases of the poliomyelitis virus have been rising at concerning rates in places like Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and Cameroon. The WHO is urging that actions must be taken to curb this sudden rise in the viral, infectious disease that is known to cripple those afflicted. The organization is recommending those who travel internationally from these regions provide proof of vaccination.

Educating countries like Pakistan, Nigeria and Afghanistan on the importance of vaccinating from poliomyelitis is proving to be a challenge given that warnings to these countries fell on deaf ears and resulted in the virus making its way into Syria from Pakistan which had not seen a polio case in 14 years. The World Health Organization is reporting that so far for 2014, the amount of polio cases have tripled in number compared to last year. So far this year, 68 new cases of polio have been reported.

While the WHO has no power to enforce vaccinations, health care professionals say this global polio emergency could lead to a world crisis if countries most affected by this outbreak do not adhere to the importance of vaccinations. This comeback in the virus could set back years of progress that had been made to keep people protected from a virus that had at one point left thousands of adults and children with paralysis, impaired motor skills and in some cases death. According to reports, in response to the warning from the World Health Organization, Pakistani officials say they will implement mandatory immunizations for citizens traveling outside of the country. Immunization stations will be set up at boarder crossings and at airports.

Polio had been considered one of the most feared childhood maladies of the 20th century. The virus is said to be transmitted through ingesting contaminated food and water.  The virus takes hold of the nervous system, causing paralysis and in some cases it can cause death within a matter of hours.  Said to be first discovered in Europe and later in the United States, scientists had developed a vaccination that to this day, has become one of a number of necessary vaccines administered to western infants, like the measles, mumps and rubella series of shots. The polio vaccine was developed and introduced in 1957, and became the holy grail of medicine, wiping out evidence of the virus in the Americas, Europe and much of Asia and Africa.

For the World Health Organization as a watchdog of public health, they are stressing the need to sound an emergency alarm as this resurgence of polio in parts of the world continues to spread. The WHO makes it their business to want the world to know that this comeback could set back years of progress made in disease prevention and containment if not addressed immediately.

By Hal Banfield

NY Times
The Atlantic