Most of us consider polio a relic of the mid-twentieth century, when the crippling virus struck down U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt along with millions of other people worldwide. But it now appears the polio virus is making a comeback, with the United Nations’ World Health Organization (WHO) declaring the issue a “public health emergency of international concern.”
At the current moment just three countries — Pakistan, Nigeria, and Afghanistan — are dealing with serious polio outbreaks. However, Dr. Bryce Alward, WHO’s asssitant director-general for polio, emergencies, and country collaboration, says the highly-infectious virus is likely to spread to other nations over the coming months and years. In fact, reports indicate that polio could soon become a problem in Syria, Iraq, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya, and even Israel.
“The international spread of polio today in 2014 constitutes an extraordinary event and a public health risk to other states.” Aylward recently noted. “If the situation as of today … went unchecked, it could result in failure to eradicate globally one of the world’s most serious vaccine preventable diseases.”
To demonstrate just how serious this threat is, WHO says that recently discovered polio cases in Syria have been linked to a strain previously found in Pakistan.
In an effort to prevent polio’s spread across international borders, WHO is making a number of key recommendations. For example, national governments are being encouraged to declare national emergencies where polio is becoming a problem. These nations would then be required to raise awareness about the virus, educate citizens on how to prevent infection, and then screen all outgoing travelers to prevent polio from reaching other countries.