Angola polio outbreak threatens neighbours: WHO

Fri Oct 1, 2010 9:34am GMT

By Kate Kelland, Health and Science Correspondent

LONDON (Reuters) - A persistent outbreak of polio in Angola is now a matter of international concern and health authorities there must step up their efforts to stamp it out, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Friday.

The WHO's spokeswoman on polio eradication, Sona Bari, said an outbreak of the crippling virus, which started in 2007 after Angola had been polio-free for six years, now has "international consequences" if it is not stopped.

So far this year Angola has had 24 cases of polio -- a virus which attacks the nervous system and can cause irreversible paralysis -- adding to 29 in 2009 and 29 in 2008, she said.

"It is the only expanding outbreak in all of Africa, spreading both within Angola and into the Democratic Republic of Congo," Bari said in a telephone interview. "It's a high threat to neighbouring countries."

The Democratic Republic of Congo has had 15 polio cases so far this year after having just three in the whole of 2009.

The WHO, UNICEF, Rotary International and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have been working together since 1988 to eradicate polio, but their initial target of the year 2000 proved over-optimistic.

Four countries -- Afghanistan, India, Nigeria and Pakistan -- remain endemic polio countries as they have been unable to stop it. Others like Angola have stopped it only temporarily.

As well as persisting in endemic countries, the virus can be imported from endemic areas to cause fresh outbreaks such as the one in Angola and another larger one in Tajikistan, which the WHO says has had 458 cases so far this year.   Continued...

<p>Five-year-old Lucille Nguindo receives polio vaccinations at a clinic in the Angolan capital Luanda July 14, 2006. REUTERS/Wayne Conradie</p>
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