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Spread of Polio a Global Health 'Emergency,' Warns World Health Organization

Public Health Emergency of International Concern issued by UN body for second time ever

The spread of polio now poses a global health emergency, the WHO has warned. (Photo: NICEF Ethiopia/cc/flickr)

The spread of polio now poses a global health emergency, the WHO has warned. (Photo: NICEF Ethiopia/cc/flickr)

The current spread of polio poses an international emergency and public health threat that could undermine efforts to eradicate the disease, the World Health Organization warned on Monday.

The only other time the United Nations body stated that conditions for a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) were warranted was in 2009, during the H1N1 pandemic.

There have already been documented cases of the crippling disease being internationally transported in Asia, the Middle East and Africa, and the WHO cites the fact that these have happened during low transmission season as cause for particular concern.

In addition to Pakistan, Cameroon and Syria, countries the international spread of wild poliovirus has occurred, seven other states are experiencing polio infections: Afghanistan, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Israel, Nigeria, Somalia and Iraq.

Pakistan has been particular hard hit, the UN body said, with 59 of the 74 cases of polio this year striking the country. The majority of those, 46 of the 59, have struck the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, a region that has been the frequent target of U.S. drone strikes.

The country was also the site of a fake vaccination program carried out by the CIA to gain intelligence about the location of Osama bin Laden. That fake program prompted retaliatory attacks on anti-polio campaigners in Pakistan, though the WHO has taken measures to reduce violence against health workers there.

Speaking to press on Monday, the WHO's Dr. Bruce Aylward said, "The current conflict situations that we’re dealing with globally further complicate obviously the implementation of the strategies but so far have not proven a barrier to the ability to interrupt it altogether."

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