Polio threat brings united effort


GENEVA — Some 21 nations in the Middle East and nearby regions have jointly made the eradication of polio an emergency priority and recognized that Pakistan is a key part of the problem, the World Health Organization said Wednesday.

    The joint resolution by nations who are part of the U.N. health agency’s Eastern Mediterranean region have called on Pakistan to urgently vaccinate all of its children to prevent the virus from spreading internationally.

    Pakistan also approved the resolution, which the Geneva-based agency says includes Afghanistan, Bahrain, Djibouti, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

    The problem is particularly challenging in Pakistan, where a U.N.-backed eradication campaign has suffered from violence and mistrust directed against polio workers and people who want their children vaccinated.

    Earlier this week, WHO officials said the polio virus has now been confirmed in 13 of 22 children who became paralyzed in a northern Syrian province. The health agency said the Syria outbreak comes from a strain that originated in Pakistan, where, along with Afghanistan and Nigeria, it is endemic — and has been spreading across the Middle East.

    It said the virus has been detected in Egypt, and closely related strains of Pakistani origin turned up in sewage samples in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip, but higher immunization rates in those places have helped keep the virus in check.

    A third of the nations in the WHO’s Eastern Mediterranean region are conducting mass polio vaccination programs, the agency said, and more such campaigns are planned for December.

    The nations in those regions also said they are trying to improve access for health workers to reach children who have not yet been vaccinated.

    WHO said its emergency “outbreak response” to polio in Syria and the region is expected to continue at least six to eight months more.

    The Oklahoman, Thursday, November 14, 2013