Health Experts Eye Dead Halt to Polio Menace

Posted by: Medical Observer

WARS against any disease are waged on a global scale because diseases defy national boundaries, run through borders untrammeled, even leap across continents—and would brook no race, religion, creed or political persuasion. Every human being is fair game to a host of ailments that arise like armies on a rampage to lay waste to mankind.

Populations wedged between the Pakistan-Afghanistan boundaries where armed strife holds sway have become more vulnerable to diseases, including those that can be curbed through vaccines and inoculations.

Political strife that has escalated into armed conflict “is really jeopardizing the access of population to delivery of vaccines and other vital health services,” stresses epidemiologist Dr. Liliane Boualam of the World Health Organization (WHO). 

Political crises can spawn health maladies and Dr. Boualam cites Syria that has rid polio and has been “polio-free for more than a decade. Lack of health services and the current (political) crisis they are facing (has precipitated serious health consequences since) the population and the children were not immunized enough to be protected against an ‘importation’.

“Cases from Pakistan reach the immunity gap and found these kids. So we have a (polio) outbreak here in Syria. Iraq as you know is in a very fragile state (and) is in exactly the same (quandary). ‘Importation’ can jump (wreak havoc in places where the populace is vulnerable). (The virus) always finds its way and reaches the prey,” she rues.

Thus, the reported outbreaks in countries that had enjoyed extended periods of freedom from the menace—but were infected anew because of immunity gap, even gaps in surveillance for health experts to detect the spread of the virus. Lately, “Iraq and Syria have reported 35 wild polio type 1 cases and countries from the Horn of Africa which include Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia have reported a total of 200 cases of wild type 1 viruses since last year,” Dr. Boualam notes.

On a positive note, the culprit viruses have been identified—type 1, type 2, and type 3. “The type 2 has been detected for the last time in 1999 in India—(and was never seen again in any country and that means) the vaccine that was used to stop this specific type of virus was very efficient. Type 3 was reported for the last time in Nigeria (and China) in 2012. The wild type 1 viruses (are putting up a fight) so it’s really something we have to address.”

She confesses to growing up in France where she “never saw any polio cases and I never heard about (them) in my study until I started working for WHO and traveling around the world.

“Now I have seen hundreds of these cases and that is something you will never forget—when you see the child who can be (saved) from a disability for his whole life with just a vaccine, and we know that the vaccine is for free all over the world, it’s really painful to see that. It’s part of our responsibility as workers to ensure that they are getting the vaccine and (stopping) the disease from spreading.

(Worldwide) we have currently 126 countries using full OPD immunization schedule. In the Asian region, 17 countries (are putting immunization to work including the Philippines and China).

And we need to ensure that by 2015 all countries would have introduced (the less expensive) one dose of IPV within the immunization schedule (in a shift from the three-dose OPV in use in countries like the Philippines).

Putting a stop to the global polio menace becomes the end-game to the strategy played out across nations and continents. Why is that so? The endgame to polio is needed “to ensure that there is progress in the (health) investment of each country and that the people (of every nation) are protected.”

Dr. Boualam admits that introducing and synchronizing administration of the low-cost single-dose IPV within a year in 126 countries “is a huge challenge. We know that countries have to face a lot of issues, financing, advocacy, and convincing governments for such need. There is a lot of work ongoing and we should really commend the progress of the Western Pacific member states towards that.”

- Dong Delos Reyes