Polio Resurfaces in Liberia
Updated: August 12, 2009 – 9:44am
News Section:Community News
5 Counties Fall Prey, Others Threatened
[photo] Boy with polio (Courtesy WHO)
By: Stephen Binda
MONROVIA – Liberia’s health authorities have announced that the dangerous disease, polio, has resurfaced in the country.
Five of the country’s 15 counties have already been affected according to the Ministry of Health, a total of eight cases having been confirmed in Bomi, Montserrado, Maryland, River Gee and Grand Gedeh.
On Tuesday, World Health Organization (WHO) representatives accompanied Liberian Ministry of Health officials to the Capitol Building in Monrovia, where they met with members of the National Legislature to sound the alarm on the re-emergence of the disease in the country.
Addressing the plenary of the Liberian Senate Tuesday, Acting Program Manager for the Expended Program on Immunization at the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, Thomas Nagbe, said the re-emergence of the virus in Liberia was a worrisome situation for the country.
The health authorities, who sought funding in the amount of US$380,000 to combat the disease, told the legislators that the situation had an emergency nature that warranted swift action.
They made it emphatically clear that if the situation was not addressed with care and a sense of urgency, the polio virus would, in a short span of time, spread to other parts of the country.
They attributed the re-emergence of the virus to many factors among which was the inflow of people from foreign countries, particularly from neighboring states where the disease remains active.
Liberia is bordered to the North by the Republic of Guinea, to the East by Ivory Coast, to the West by Sierra Leone and on the South by the Atlantic Ocean.
The Liberian health authorities named the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Ivory Coast and the Republic of Guinea as countries in the West African sub-region where they said the prevailing rate of the disease remained high.
“People leaving and coming into Liberia, using our borders by way of either Ivory Coast or Guinea, are some of the root causes of the recurrence of the virus in Liberia,” Nagbe told the Senate Tuesday.
He said current data clearly showed that there were eight confirmed cases of the virus in Liberia with people in five counties being affected.
Nagbe listed Bomi, Montserrado, Maryland, River Gee and Grand Gedeh as counties currently ‘saturated’ with the epidemic.
Bomi, Montsorrado and Grand Gedeh have recorded one case each, Maryland County two, and River Gee County is handling three cases, he informed the Senate.
He divulged that plans had been finalized by the MOH to launch a nationwide polio eradication campaign which would be held from August 14 through August 18.
During the campaign, Nagbe explained, children under the age of five years would be vaccinated free of charge so as to arrest the rapid spread of the disease in the country.
According to the health authorities, the Ivory Coast had registered at least 21 confirmed cases of polio, Guinea 15, while Nigeria had reported 360 cases.
It may be recalled that POLIOMYELITIS (infantile paralysis) has been eradicated from nearly every country in the world since the approval for use of the Salk (1955) and Sabin (1962) vaccines. The WHO said no more than 1,500 cases of acute poliomyelitis had been reported in 2001.
The number of countries in which polio is endemic dropped from 20 in 2001 to 10 at the beginning of 2002. The WHO target date for declaring the world polio-free was 2005.
A few years ago, Liberia was certificated after the disease, which had caused disabilities predominantly in children, was declared eradicated from the country’s population of more than three million.
The organization estimates that there are 20 million people worldwide with some degree of disability caused by poliomyelitis. A 1996 National Center for Health Statistics survey reported a preliminary estimate of one million survivors in the United States. About 450,000 of them reported paralysis resulting in some form of impairment.
For years most of these polio survivors lived active lives, their memory of polio long forgotten, their health status stable. By the late ’70s, polio survivors were noting new problems of fatigue, pain, and additional weakness.
By the mid 80s, health professionals and policy makers recognized these new problems as being real and not ‘only in the patients’ minds.’ Studies on this phenomenon called ‘post-polio syndrome’ have been and are still being conducted in research institutions and medical centers.
Survivors of poliomyelitis may experience symptoms that include unaccustomed fatigue – either rapid muscle tiring or feeling of total body exhaustion and new weakness in muscles. Both those originally affected and those seemingly unaffected, have pain in muscles and/or joints, sleeping problems, breathing difficulties, swallowing problems, decreased ability to tolerate cold temperatures, decline in ability to conduct customary daily activities such as walking, bathing, etc. These general symptoms are experienced in varying degrees, and their progression can be insidious.
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