Last week the World Health Organisation’s Emergency Committee declared the continued spread of wild poliovirus across multiple countries a public health emergancy of international concern. The move was made in an attempt to stifle the virus before it could reverse the work that has already taken place across the world to eradicate one of the most deadly viruses in human history.
The WHO labelled Afghanistan, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Israel, Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia and the Syrian Arab Republic among the states currently battling the virus. Whilst Pakistan, Cameroon, and the Syrian Arab Republic were singled out as countries from which the virus was being exported.
At the end of 2013, 60% of polio cases were the result of wild poliovirus spreading, with evidence suggesting that international travellers were a significant part of the exportation of the virus.
This spike in polio cases comes despite the impressive results we have already seen in battling polio. With cases of polio in Afganistan falling by 62% between 2012 and 2013, whilst cases of polio in Nigeria were down 57% in the same period.
A theme that links the countries identified by the WHO is an unsettled climate or even all out civil war. The question now is whether the WHO and it’s allies can stem the tide of polio cases in these countries, if the possibility of effective and far reaching vaccination campaigns is cut short by civil unrest?