Papua New Guinea sees first polio outbreak in 18 years

At least three children were confirmed to be suffering from the virus in the Morobe province 

Papua New Huinea has been polio-free since 2000.
Papua New Huinea has been polio-free since 2000.

The fist case of polio in Papua New Guinea in 18 years has been detected, government and UN officials have confirmed.

A six-year-old boy from the Morobe province is the first confirmed case of the virus in the country. He was presented to health authorities on 18 April with weakness in his lower limbs.

According to the country's health department, it was confirmed three weeks later that he had contracted a vaccine-derived poliovirus type 1.

Last week, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found the virus was also present in the stool samples of two children in the boy’s community; prompting health authorities to declare an official outbreak.

"We are deeply concerned about this polio case in Papua New Guinea, and the fact that the virus is circulating," Pascoe Kase, secretary of the Department of Health, said in a statement late Monday.

"Our immediate priority is to respond and prevent more children from being infected."

The World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the impoverished island nation polio-free in 2000, along with the rest of the western Pacific region. Only three other countries in the world continue to battle the virus; Pakistan, Nigeria and Afghanistan.

WHO has assessed the risk of polio spreading to other countries as low, because travel in and out of the region is relatively limited. In the weeks after the first case was confirmed, WHO deployed health workers for a “mop up” immunisation campaign, targeting children under the age of 15. To date, 845 children from the Lufa mountain settlement have been vaccinated.

Water, sanitation and hygiene are serious challenges in the region, adding to the crisis of controlling the highly infectious virus which mainly affects young children.

Dr Luo Dapeng, WHO Representative in Papua New Guinea, said: “Since the detection of poliovirus in April, WHO has been working with the government on the investigation, laboratory confirmation, enhanced surveillance and response activities. We will continue to support the government to ensure children are protected.”

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