It was eradicated 18 years ago but polio is back in Papua New Guinea, and since the first case was detected in April, dozens more families have been affected.
And this had much to do with low levels of immunisation in the country.
We always speak about herd immunity: if enough children in a community are immunised against a disease, then that disease will no longer be able to travel through that community. So when you choose not to vaccinate, you’re essentially breaking that barrier, putting the more vulnerable in society who are still too young to be vaccinated, at risk.
For the most part, polio affects children under the age of 5 and the most visible sign is paralysis. And unfortunately, this seems to have been the case in Papua New Guinea.
Dr. Monjur Hossain, UNICEF’s Chief of the Young Child Survival and Development programme in the region, says, “The country’s been suffering from extremely low coverage of immunisation for almost a decade.” He explains that it’s a reflection of the country. “So it’s not a sudden surprise to the public health community, neither to the government.”
In South Africa we have an ongoing and intensive polio vaccination programme, as Health24 reports, and no cases have been identified since the 1980s.
The WHO organisation also reported that in 2016 fewer children were paralysed by polio than in any other year and two of the three strains of wild polio seemed to be eliminated. In March 2018 they also reported that India and the entire South-East Asia Region have been declared polio-free. Papua New Guinea, however, forms part of the South-East Asia region, proving that while we may think many diseases have been completely eradicated, we can’t simply stop vaccinating our children, even in polio-free South Africa.
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