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WHO Investigates Possible Polio Outbreak In Syria; Virus Continues To Spread In Pakistan, Afghanistan, Horn Of Africa

“The [WHO] said Saturday it is investigating a possible outbreak of polio in Syria, where an ongoing civil war has decimated the public health infrastructure,” CNN reports. “The organization said it received reports Thursday of ‘a cluster of acute flaccid paralysis (AFP) cases’ … detected early in the month in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor,” the news agency writes (Watkins, 10/20). “The WHO is still waiting for final test results from its regional reference laboratory,” according to Reuters, which adds, “Wild poliovirus was last reported in Syria in 1999” (Kelland, 10/19). “Syria’s Ministry of Public Health is launching an urgent response, but experts fear the disease will be hard to control amid civil unrest,” BBC News writes, noting “vaccination rates have been waning,” “[a]t least a third of the country’s public hospitals are out of service,” and the risk of an outbreak is increased due to “overcrowding, poor sanitation and deterioration in water supply” (10/21).

In related news, Reuters in a separate article examines how “[a] Taliban ban on vaccination is exacerbating a serious polio outbreak in Pakistan, threatening to derail dramatic progress made this year towards wiping out the disease worldwide,” according to health officials. “Health teams in Pakistan have been attacked repeatedly since the Taliban denounced vaccines as a Western plot to sterilize Muslims and imposed bans on inoculation in June 2012,” the news service notes (10/18). In similar news, the Global Dispatch reports “[t]he number of polio cases in the Horn of Africa outbreak has risen by six as both Somalia and Ethiopia recorded new cases,” “Afghanistan reported one new wild poliovirus-1 (WPV1) case in the past week,” and “Pakistan reported four new WPV1 cases in the past week” (10/18). Scientific American on Friday introduced “a special e-publication called ‘Polio: Pushed to the Brink,'” which draws articles from the magazine’s archives (De Quadros, 10/18).