WHO Says Polio Now Worldwide Health Emergency

WHO reports the polio virus has re-emerged in 10 countries in Asia, Africa and the Middle East, calling for "extraordinary measures."

WHO Says Polio Now Worldwide Health Emergency
U.S. Department of Defense

The World Health Organization declared the spread of polio an international health emergency for the first time ever Monday, despite decades of efforts to eradicate the disease.

At an emergency meeting in Geneva, WHO announced 10 countries effected by a new wild polio virus – which is a degenerative disease that often leads to paralysis. They include parts of Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Over half of which have been free of the virus to this point. (Via World Health OrganizationEuronews)

In particular, much of the finger-pointing went to Pakistan, Syria and Cameroon, where they say the virus spread considerably – mainly from traveling between neighboring countries.

The New York Times notes some of the more alarming statistics: in 2012, there were just 223 new cases of polio — the lowest ever recorded. Last year, that number nearly doubled to 417.

Dr. Bruce Aylward — the man in charge of polio eradication at WHO — insisted countries take "extraordinary measures" to get rid of the crippling virus. 

Dr. Aylward told the Times: Until it is eradicated, polio will continue to spread internationally, find and paralyze susceptible kids."

Now, polio re-emergence is particularly scary because there is no known cure.

The only way to prevent it is through immunization. And, according to The New York Times, if Dr, Aylward had his way, every child in affected regions would get vaccinated. Same for adults who travel in and out of those areas.

But, a writer for Slate says that's easier said than done because vaccination efforts in those countries have been thwarted due to a number of outside influences.

The collapse of Syria's healthcare system or Cameroon's weak healthcare infrastructure and general fear of vaccines. And, then there's the Taliban, who have attacked relief workers administering the vaccine in Afghanistan because they believe vaccines are a "western plot to sterilize Muslim children."

WHO's announcement comes despite remarkable success with polio eradication throughout India over the past several years.

A 2012 report in BCC said that in 1985 there were about 150,000 cases of polio in India. In 2009, that number plummeted to 741. That, of course, came with help from WHO, Unicef and a guy with a pretty big pocket book at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The foundation's site claims global incidence of polio has declined by 99 percent since 1988, and that, with a concerted international push, the disease could become the second ever eliminated after smallpox. (Via Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation)

"We're at a crossroads. The world could eradicate polio. ... Or, we could see a dangerous surgence of this virus, which would mean future generations in India would be at risk." (Via BBC)

It's worth noting that no sightings of polio have occurred in the U.S. since 1979.