Angola: UN health agency warns that polio outbreak may spread

Health workers administer oral polio vaccine

20 July 2010 – The United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) is warning there is a high risk that a recent outbreak of polio in Angola could spread to neighbouring countries and urged action to ensure that local children are vaccinated against the disease.

At least 15 cases of wild poliovirus type 1 have been recorded across Angola since the start of the year, and WHO said in an update issued yesterday that the pattern of the cases signal that the outbreak is expanding.

All of the cases that have been detected since February were recorded in either the capital, Luanda, or in five provinces – Bié, Bengo, Huambo, Lunda Norte and Lunda Sul – that had previously been considered polio-free. Another genetically related case was detected in a neighbouring province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) earlier this year.

WHO said polio vaccination coverage needs to substantially improve, with as many as 25 per cent of children regularly missed during supplementary immunization campaigns over the past 18 months.

“Urgent action is needed to ensure that all children in Angola are reached with oral poliovirus vaccine” next month and in September, when subsequent rounds of immunizations are scheduled to take place, according to the agency.

It also urged countries in the region to strengthen their disease surveillance so they can mount a rapid response if cases begin to occur in their jurisdictions.

WHO is also calling on travellers to and from Angola to ensure they are fully vaccinated against polio.

Sometimes called poliomyelitis, polio is a highly infectious and sometimes fatal disease, and is often marked by acute flaccid paralysis among sufferers. It has been eradicated from much of the world, but experience shows that the virus can travel far relatively rapidly.


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