Wednesday, April 22, 2009

New polio outbreaks in Africa prompt call for vaccine

From The New York Times:

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has made an emergency appeal for millions of dollars to fight a new polio outbreak across Africa.

“Polio is spreading again, including in countries such as Uganda which had been polio-free for more than a decade,” said Dr. Tamman Aloudat, who is in charge of health emergencies for the federation.

Despite more than 20 years of eradication efforts, two strains of polio have spread out from northern Nigeria and northern India — both places where many Muslims have resisted vaccines because of rumors that vaccine efforts are a Western plot to sterilize them.

Particularly worrisome, Dr. Aloudat said, is that polio has again reached Port Sudan, a ferry port on the way to Mecca. From 2004 to 2006, pilgrims are believed to have spread polio from Port Sudan to Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Indonesia and Yemen, outbreaks that cost more than $150 million to smother.

Since January 2008, polio has been newly found in 15 African countries.

Gene sequencing of the virus taken from paralyzed patients found that most cases had spread east and west from Nigeria along the southern edge of the Sahara. But one strain went from India to Angola and then to two other countries.

There are only four countries in which the disease has never been eradicated: Nigeria, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. But it appears to be re-establishing itself in Angola, Chad, Niger, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.