WHO has announced the outcomes of the Emergency Committee meeting on polio, which was convened in Geneva last week, concluding that the recent international spread of polio constitutes a “public health emergency of international concern” and issuing recommendations to prevent further international spread of the virus.
Details on the decision and resulting recommendations are available in this statement from WHO. There is also a story on polioeradication.org (http://www.polioeradication.org/mediaroom/newsstories/Polio-declared-public-health-emergency-of-international-concern/tabid/526/news/916/Default.aspx) and with full text pasted below
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Polio declared public health emergency of international concern
After several days of consultation with the Emergency Committee which was convened under the International Health Regulations, the World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General has determined that the spread of wild poliovirus to three countries – during what is normally the low-transmission season – is an 'extraordinary event' and a public health risk to other countries.
Because a coordinated international response is essential to prevent this from worsening at the start of the high season for poliovirus transmission, the Director-General is declaring this to be a public health emergency of international concern. Currently 10 countries have active wild poliovirus outbreaks that could spread to other countries through the movement of people. From January to April this year – that is the low-transmission season for polio – the virus has been carried to three countries: in central Asia (from Pakistan to Afghanistan), in the Middle East (Syria to Iraq) and in Central Africa (Cameroon to Equatorial Guinea).
This is very concerning because on other fronts the polio eradication endgame is making progress: a major source of wild poliovirus, India, has stopped transmission and in 2012, international spread was virtually stopped. If this current spread of wild poliovirus continues as we move into high-transmission season this month, cases could multiply exponentially.
Outbreaks have been a constant threat and occurrence throughout the polio eradication initiative. However, the consequences of further international spread are particularly acute today given that several countries with complex humanitarian emergencies or other major challenges are bordering these infected countries. Some of the countries with complex humanitarian emergencies are places where routine immunization services are severely weakened, and which would find it extremely difficult to mount an effective polio outbreak response.
Countries of concern include Jordan, Lebanon, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen in the Middle East and in the Horn of Africa; Central African Republic and Chad in Central Africa; Ukraine in Europe. The imminent high transmission season for polioviruses (approx. May to Nov/Dec each year) drives the urgency of this decision. Preventing this spread from country to country at the start of the high season will require a coordinated international effort.
The Director-General is making a number of temporary recommendations to create a consistent approach. The Director-General's recommendations differ between the countries that are currently exporting the virus to other countries (Cameroon, Pakistan and Syria) and the countries that have to date kept it contained within their borders (Afghanistan, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Iraq, Israel, Somalia and Nigeria). Among other items, it is recommended that the former group should ensure that all residents and long-term visitors (of more than 4 weeks) receive a dose of oral (OPV) or inactivated poliovirus vaccine (IPV) between 4 weeks and 12 months before international travel.
Because the high transmission season for wild poliovirus begins in May, the new recommendations will go into effect immediately. Since travelers are the ones carrying the virus to other countries, by getting vaccinated before international travel they have the power to protect children in other countries from the crippling effects of polio.