Ukraine: a polio outbreak waiting to happen, say UNICEF and WHO
24 April 2014, Kyiv – A poliomyelitis (polio) outbreak in Ukraine is inevitable if urgent action is not taken, say UNICEF and WHO on the occasion of the European Immunization Week. The current polio circulation in the Middle East and remaining polio-endemic countries (Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan), as well as frequent population movements and low vaccination coverage, increase dramatically the risk of the spread of wild poliovirus in Ukraine.
WHO and UNICEF welcome the recent efforts of the Ministry of Health of Ukraine to ensure that polio vaccines are made available to all children. The two Organizations stand ready to assist their efforts and appeal the international community for immediate support.
“Vaccination coverage in Ukraine is at the lowest it has been for 20 years. Less than half of children are fully immunized against polio and the recent volatile situation has reduced vaccination coverage even more. UNICEF calls on the Ukrainian authorities to take measures to prevent a polio outbreak in the country”, says Yukie Mokuo, UNICEF Representative in Ukraine.
“Polio travels easily and often silently; it causes irreversible paralysis once in every 200 infections, so one child diagnosed with polio is already an outbreak. Countries with pockets of un-immunized children like Ukraine are at very high risk. However, robust national efforts can curb the polio risk. This is fully within reach if action is not further delayed”, adds Dr. Dorit Nitzan, World Health Organization Representative & Head of Country Office in Ukraine.
Ukraine was recently listed by the Independent Monitoring Board of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative as the only European country among 13 “red” countries that are at high risk for a polio outbreak. The list also includes Uganda, Syrian Arab Republic, Lebanon, Jordan, South Sudan, Sudan, Iraq, Mali, Djibouti and Eritrea.
The most effective measures to minimize the consequences of polio importation and protect the population against polio spread are high vaccination coverage against polio and high-quality surveillance.
Of special importance is the revision of the vaccine procurement system, as well as ensure vaccination coverage against polio at least up to 95%-98% in Ukraine. Low vaccine coverage in Ukraine has already triggered outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases in the country such as rubella, pertussis and mumps and the largest outbreak of measles in European Region in 2011-2013.
Re-establishing and maintaining high levels of immunity in the general population through routine vaccination remains a country’s top priority.
Since October a total of 39 polio cases have been reported in Syria. This means dozens of paralyzed kids and thousands of possible carriers of the virus. Among those paralyzed, 5% to 10% die. The Syrian Arab Republic and neighbouring countries are carrying out large-scale polio immunization campaigns to prevent polio spread nationally and internationally.
In 2010, the polio outbreak in Tajikistan killed 29 children and left more than 480 people paralyzed. The disease spread to Kazakhstan, the Russian Federation and Turkmenistan with 18 identified cases and one death.
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Veronika Vashchenko, Communication Officer,
Cristiana Salvi, Communications Officer,