Polio Emerges as Serious Threat in Impoverished Nations

Julian Omidi reports on the recent outbreaks of polio in impoverished nations such as Somalia and Kenya.

Polio, a viral infection that can ravage the muscular and respiratory system, has made an appearance in the Horn of Africa. Paralytic polio has been diagnosed in two children, one in Somalia and the other in a refugee camp in Kenya. Although there may be many as yet undiagnosed cases, the type of polio that leads to paralysis affects approximately one out of every 200 cases.

In the developed world, polio has been largely eradicated. However, ten years ago in Nigeria, polio managed to spread, unchecked, to an additional 21 countries, resulting in the paralysis of more than 1000 victims. The disease wasn’t controlled for months after the original outbreak, and it managed to spread all the way to Indonesia. Polio still hasn’t entirely been eradicated in Nigeria.

The Global Polio Eradication Initiative has mobilized in Somalia, already vaccinating nearly a half million children. By June, the initiative hopes to have vaccinated 2 million in both Somalia and Kenya.

Polio is spread quickly in depressed regions, particularly in refugee camps, where sanitation fluctuates between questionable and nonexistent. The virus circulates in the sewers, and is spread via fecal-oral contact. Samples of the polio virus have been found in Cairo, although there have not been any diagnosed cases as of yet.

In Pakistan, where several cases of paralytic polio have been recently discovered, there has been a campaign by the Pakistani Taliban to target polio aid workers attempting to vaccinate children door to door. The militant groups theorized that the polio aid workers are actually Western spies or agents attempting to sterilize Muslim children. Attempts to control polio have been seriously thwarted by attacks on aid workers, and progress has lagged behind other regional efforts. Recently, two polio aid workers were shot in the street attempting to vaccinate children in the Sheik Muhammadi region. One was killed.

The Polio virus attacks muscle-controlling nerves, and can result in difficulty in walking, moving the arms and, in severe cases, even breathing without assistance. The symptoms of polio include headaches, muscle weakness, sore throat and fever. The disease can continue to affect the patient long after the virus has ceased being active within the body. Post-polio syndrome can develop decades after the original illness has cleared, and patients often experience the same symptoms, although it is no longer contagious.

By Julian Omidi

Polio in Africa

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