Breaking: The goal of the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) to eradicate polio by year end is now in grave doubt since a case has developed in Indonesia, which means the virus has jumped an ocean from Ethiopia, Yemen and Nigeria, reports the New York Times. Of note: All the cases are in predominantly Muslim countries.

Adding to the crisis: W.H.O.’s “emergency response fund is virtually depleted and the agency has begun pleading with donors for help controlling new outbreaks in Ethiopia, Yemen and other very poor countries.”

While I researched the fate of a Yemeni woman facing execution (still unknown), I spotted this article in the Yemen Times:

WHO: Major polio epidemic hits Yemen, 22 infected

The United Nations agency, which reported four cases around the Red Sea port city of al-Hodeidah last week, said 18 more children had contracted the disease in the poor Arab state … An epidemic that originated in Nigeria has swept across Africa since mid-2003.

“What we are facing now is a major epidemic of polio in Yemen,” David Heymann, head of the WHO’s polio eradication program, told a news briefing in Geneva. It is not yet known whether there are any fatalities among the victims, who include children from all over Yemen. More below:

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Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.usPolio victims at Herman Kiefer Hospital being treated with iron lungs, September 12, 1958.

Before the intervention of the Salk vaccine in 1955, polio was one of the most dreaded diseases of the 20th century. In 3 to 4% of polio cases, the disease courses through the blood into the central nervous system and destroys the cells that allow muscles the ability to move, resulting in paralysis, and, if left untreated, suffocation. From the years 1942-1955, polio claimed hundreds of thousands of victims throughout America. During this time, Detroit, on average, reported 2,500 cases annually.

First: What Is Polio?

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usPolio, also called poliomyelitis is a highly contagious infectious disease caused by one of three related viruses. Polio is a very serious disease, which can lead to paralysis or even death. One a person is exposed to polio, it usually takes about three to five days for symptoms to appear.

In about 95 percent of polio cases, infection from the polio virus causes no symptoms or serious effects. In about 5 percent of cases, the polio virus manifests in a mild form (abortive polio) with flu-like symptoms, in a nonparalytic form (aseptic meningitis) or in a severe form called paralytic polio. People who have minor or nonparalytic forms recover completely.

Paralytic Polio?

Paralytic polio is the most serious type of polio. Paralytic polio causes paralysis. In paralytic polio, the polio virus invades the central nervous system — the spinal cord and the brain — and may cause weakness, paralysis, serious breathing problems or death. Paralytic polio begins like milder forms of polio, however, it usually causes severe muscle pain in addition to other symptoms. Paralysis usually happens within the first week. The individual may lose the ability to use of one or both legs, arms, and may not be able to breathe without the help of a machine. Recovery varies from person to person, but people who are paralyzed by polio will have some weakness in an arm or leg for the rest of their lives.

What causes Polio?

Polio is caused by a virus that lives in the throat and intestinal tract. … More


Reports the New York Times, about the current crisis:

Indonesia’s last case was in 1995, and it is now the 16th country to be re-infected by a strain of the virus that broke out of northern Nigeria when vaccinations stopped there, then crossed Africa and the Red Sea.

Officials recommended that Indonesia immediately vaccinate five million children on the western end of Java, including the capital, Jakarta, to control the virus. The country began planning such a drive last week, they said.

Indonesia has more Muslims than any other nation, and polio is now found almost exclusively in Muslim countries or regions.

Many people from northern Nigeria to the Pakistan frontier have resisted getting polio vaccines because of persistent rumors that it is a Western plot to render Muslim girls infertile or to spread AIDS. (Paradoxically, after several states in Muslim northern Nigeria halted vaccinations in 2003, it was purchases of Indonesian vaccine that finally convinced wary imams and politicians to drop their opposition, because it came from a Muslim country.) …

From the article in the Yemen Times:

“Experts fear that the number of cases will rise in the immediate future,” the WHO said in a statement. It said it is investigating other suspected cases, and low immunization rates among Yemeni children could facilitate the outbreak’s spread.

The polio virus mainly affects children under the age of five and can cause irreversible paralysis in a matter of hours. Yemen, which last reported polio in 1996, is the 15th previously polio-free country to be re-infected since mid- 2003, including 13 in Africa and Saudi Arabia.

The WHO was awaiting genetic analysis of the virus to determine whether it had come from neighboring Saudi Arabia or Sudan, which have both registered cases in the past year. “We’ll probably never be able to know whether the virus came from pilgrimage (to Mecca) or from guest workers…What is important is that the virus is here, and now we have to stop it,” Heymann said.

Yemen conducted a mass vaccination campaign in mid-April and further immunization rounds are planned in May and June. A monovalent oral vaccine against type 1 polio, recently licensed by Sanofi-Pasteur, a unit of French drug maker Sanofi-Aventis, is being used in Yemen.

“We are very confident this vaccine will help us end this polio epidemic,” Heymann said.

In 2004, polio cases worldwide jumped to 1,267, up from 784 the previous year, the WHO said. The eradication campaign suffered a severe blow in 2003 when Nigeria’s Kano state banned vaccines because Muslim elders said they were part of a Western plot to spread HIV and infertility. …

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