WHO: Polio cases remain an 'international health emergency'

Cases of polio still persist at a global level, the World Health Organization said Nov. 30, according to Reuters.

"We are so close to the elimination of polio, but we have to use all of our international tools to achieve this end," Helen Rees, MD, chair of the WHO's international emergency committee, said. "The ongoing situation continues to require that a public health emergency of international concern should be applied."

In 2018, 27 cases of "wild polio" have been reported in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Dr. Rees indicated the WHO is "very concerned" that polio cases increased from 2017.  

Polio spreads quickly among children refugees in war-ravaged regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan have limited access to healthcare. Polio is preventable by vaccine, but immunization efforts have been hindered by the Taliban and other Islamist militant groups. Reuters indicated these groups think immunization is a way to "sterilize" Muslim children.

The Global Polio Eradication Initiative set a goal of eliminating polio by the year 2000. Globally, there has been a 99 percent reduction in polio cases since the organization was established in 1988.

Outside of Pakistan and Afghanistan, there have not been any global polio cases in four years, the WHO emergency committee said.

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