Just when it appeared that polio had been completely eradicated, the British Polio Fellowship has warned the globe of the dangers of complacency following the recent discovery of the virus in Europe for the first time since 2010. Two children, one four years old and one 10 months old in the Ukraine were confirmed as having polio the World Health Organization (WHO).
The British Polio Fellowship
, a charity that helps and supports those in the UK living with the late effects of Polio and Post Polio Syndrome (PPS), says that this recent discovery provides a tough reminder to the world as to how much more work is to be done to combat Polio. Post Polio Syndrome (PPS) is a neurological condition which can occur in up to 80 percent of those who have had Polio. It is estimated that around 120,000 people in the UK are living with PPS today.
Ted Hill MBE, CEO of The British Polio Fellowship, said, “All of us at The British Polio Fellowship were greatly saddened to see the news of Polio being discovered in Europe for the first time in five years. It was shocking news to receive and felt like a huge setback following the hard work that has been carried out by countless people over the years. This new discovery of Polio in Europe therefore is a timely and blunt reminder to all of us that Polio is very much real, and very much dangerous. It’s extremely vital that this setback acts as a catalyst for change, and a message that there is still work to be done.”
In addition to confirming the cases, the WHO said that both cases occurred because immunization rates in the Ukraine were extremely low. Both cases were vaccine-derived Polio, which can occur when children are given a weak dose of live Polio when they are vaccinated to confer immunity.
Polio immunization has dropped dramatically in the Ukraine since 2008, with vaccine shortages in the country currently common because of economic turmoil. Less than half, only 49 per cent, of children were vaccinated in the Ukraine last year. The WHO said that the current rate of vaccination against Polio among children under a year old is only 14.1 per cent because of a shortage of vaccine in the country.
Polio is still a problem in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Additionally, there are cases of wild Poliovirus in six countries including Iraq and Cameroon; while South Sudan and Madagascar have two and one cases of vaccine-derived Polio, respectively.
“The work and challenges ahead would be daunting for most, but setbacks like this only make us stronger and more determined to eliminate Polio once and for all,” said Hill.
In 1988, a global initiative to eradicate Polio was established, lowering the number of cases by more than 99 per cent in 30 years. Through routine vaccination, there was a reduction from 350,000 cases in 1988 to 650 in 2011.
Hill concluded, “We’ve been here before, where the road ahead looks discouraging, but time and again those in the Polio community, be they medical staff or volunteers have stood up and fought back. It’s vital that this continues and as well as heeding this recent discovery as a warning, we also use it to contribute more effort than ever to get rid of Polio once and for all.”