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GENEVA -- Eighteen new cases of polio have been announced in Yemen, bringing the reported total number associated with an outbreak in the country to 22. Yemen had been polio-free since disease surveillance began in 1996; a genetic investigation is ongoing to determine the precise origin of the outbreak. Experts fear that the number of cases will rise in the immediate future.
Teams of World Health Organization (WHO) and Ministry of Health epidemiologists and pediatricians remain on the ground to investigate and control the outbreak and to intensify the planning for appropriate supplementary immunization activities.
Four cases of polio were confirmed on April 20 in just one governorate in the south-western part of the country, on the Red Sea coast. The latest 18 cases occurred across five governorates throughout Yemen, including two districts in the countrys capital Sanaa, suggesting the virus has spread across the country. Ongoing field investigations have identified additional suspected polio cases across the affected governorates in Yemen. Low immunization rates among Yemens children may facilitate the spread of the virus.
Experts are now planning an outbreak response, using the recently-developed monovalent oral polio vaccine type 1(mOPV1). This new vaccine enables a precisely tailored immunological response to the type 1 poliovirus that is causing the outbreak. Compared to the commonly-used trivalent OPV, which offers protection against all three types of wild poliovirus, mOPV1 provides a greater immunity to type 1 wild poliovirus with fewer doses. Use of mOPV1 is expected during a nationwide immunization campaign in the second half of May. Yemen had already conducted a mass campaign April 11 to 14, as the country was considered to be at high risk of polio reinfection from nearby Sudan where an outbreak of polio continues.
Experience in polio eradication demonstrates that outbreaks can be quickly contained with high quality immunization campaigns which reach every child under five years old.
Dedicated donor support and strong partnerships with the private sector have enabled the previous campaign in Yemen as well as swift development of the mOPV1 vaccine. However, a global funding gap of $50 million must urgently be filled by July, to finance continued intensification of immunization campaigns in the second half of the year.
Global eradication efforts have reduced the number of polio cases from 350,000 annually in 1988 to 1,267 cases in 2004. Six countries remain polio-endemic, with a further six where polio transmission is reestablished. Concern is high that the ongoing outbreak of polio in Africa might lead to reinfection of more countries in the polio-free Horn of Africa and the Middle East. Yemen is the most recent of 15 polio-free countries that have reported cases of polio since the epidemic began in late 2003.
Source: World Health Organization