The British Polio Fellowship has warned the globe of the dangers of complacency when it comes to Polio following the recent discovery of the virus in Europe for the first time since 2010. Two children, one aged four years and one aged 10 months in Ukraine were confirmed by the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) as positive and confirmed the cases.
The British Polio Fellowship, a charity which helps and supports those in the UK living with the late effects of Polio and Post Polio Syndrome (PPS), says that this recent discovery provides a tough reminder to the world as to how much more work is to be done to combat Polio.
“All of us at The British Polio Fellowship were greatly saddened to see the news of Polio being discovered in Europe for the first time in five years,” said Ted Hill MBE, CEO of The British Polio Fellowship. “It was shocking news to receive and felt like a huge setback following the hard work that has been carried out by countless people over the years.
“This new discovery of Polio in Europe therefore is a timely and blunt reminder to all of us that Polio is very much real, and very much dangerous. It’s extremely vital that this setback acts as a catalyst for change, and a message that there is still work to be done.”
As well as confirming the cases, the WHO said that both cases occurred because immunisation rates in the Ukraine were extremely low. Both cases were vaccine-derived Polio, which can occur where children are given a weak dose of live Polio when they are vaccinated to confer immunity – a method which requires a high level of immunisation in the locality to stop the weakened virus replicating, circulating and eventually straining into a causing disease – called a circulating vaccine-derived Poliovirus.
Polio immunisation has dropped drastically in the Ukraine since 2008, with vaccine shortages in the country currently common due economic turmoil. Less than half, only 49 per cent of children were vaccinated in the Ukraine last year, with the WHO stating that currently the rate of vaccination against Polio amongst children under a year old is only 14.1 per cent due to a shortage of vaccine in the country.
Polio is still endemic in Afghanistan and Pakistan; there are cases of wild Poliovirus in six countries including Iraq and Cameroon; whilst South Sudan and Madagascar have two and one cases of vaccine-derived Polio respectively. Ted says that all this shows the vast work that everyone faces to eradicate Polio.
“The work and challenges ahead would be daunting for most, but setbacks like this only make us stronger and more determined to eliminate Polio once and for all,” said Ted.
Since 1988, a global initiative to eradicate Polio was established, leading to the number of cases being lowered by more than 99 per cent in 30 years. Through routine vaccination, an estimated 350,000 cases in 1988 were reduced to a reported 650 in 2011.
“We’ve been here before, where the road ahead looks discouraging, but time and again those in the Polio community, be they medical staff or volunteers have stood up and fought back. It’s vital that this continues and as well as heeding this recent discovery as a warning, we also use it to contribute more effort than ever to get rid of Polio once and for all,” concluded Ted.