Poliomyelitis is an infectious disease that affects children. It is also known as infantile paralysis because the final stage of this disease ends in damage to the central nervous system causing muscle weakness and paralysis.
Not all who have this disease have the associated symptoms at all but for some who do, it may end in death. In recent years, global efforts have reduced the numbers of infections to virtually non-existent.
However, reports of new outbreaks have arisen in a number of countries across the Middle East, primarily in Syria where approximately 22 cases have been reported. Unfortunately, 10 of these cases have resulted in the affected children suffering from paralysis.
Although cases have only been reported in Syria, fear of a global outbreak has spread and in response the WHO and UNICEF have launched a campaign that aims to vaccinate 20 million Syrian children, many of whom are refugees living in neighbouring countries.
Syria has been free of this crippling disease for almost 15 years but due to the poor living conditions in the nation, as a result of a bloody civil war, the persistent virus has made a return.
Poliovirus, the cause of poliomyelitis, thrives in poor sanitary and living conditions the virus can be spread amongst children like wild fire.
In addition to the recorded cases in Syria, the virus has been found in the sewage in the Palestinian territories, Israel and Egypt. The strain of the virus in all 4 countries seem to have originated from a strain that had previously been found in Pakistan.
Although initiatives to vaccinate children have been undertaken by global health authorities, reports indicate that it may take up to 8 months to immunize all unvaccinated children. This has been a cause of worry and fear across many countries.
A primary concern is the Middle East due to the proximity and evidence that the virus has already begun to spread. Dr. Bruce Aylward, who is part of the vaccination campaign, said, “The reality is, you’ve got a reinfection of the Middle East. This is going to require a massive coordination.”
In addition, due to the presence of the virus in Israel, many in Europe are beginning to worry. Many Syrian refugees are escaping conflicts across the world and have been frequently entering countries such as Sweden and Germany.
This has made some wonder if there still is a chance to completely eradicate this disease or if will make a return on a global scale.