June 26 (UPI) — Five years after world leaders aimed to wipe out polio worldwide, the disease has turned up in Papa New Guinea for the first time in nearly two decades, the World Health Organization said.
The WHO confirmed a strain Monday in the island nation that was detected in a child from Morobe Province in April. It was also confirmed by the National Department of Health of Papua New Guinea.
Polio is a crippling and potentially deadly infectious disease spread from human contact or contaminated food or water. It can affect the brain and spinal cord and cause paralysis.
Health officials say the virus appeared in a 6-year-old boy on April 28. About a month later, officials determined a vaccine-derived poliovirus caused paralysis in the child. Friday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the same virus is two children from the same community.
“We are deeply concerned about this polio case in Papua New Guinea, and the fact that the virus is circulating,” NDOH Secretary Pascoe Kase said. “Our immediate priority is to respond and prevent more children from being infected.”
Papa New Guinea and the WHO’s Western Pacific Region were certified polio-free in 2000 after going four years without a case. Monday’s news marked the first appearance of the disease in 18 years.
Officials said only 61 percent of children in Morobe Province have received the recommended vaccine doses. Inadequate sanitation there is also a contributor, they added.
The National Department of Health of Papua New Guinea is working with WHO to contain the outbreak with immunization campaigns and strengthened surveillance to detect the virus early.
“Since the detection of poliovirus in April, WHO has been working with the government on the investigation, laboratory confirmation, enhanced surveillance and response activities,” Papa New Guinea WHO representative Dr. Luo Dapeng said. “We will continue to support the Government to ensure children are protected.”
The oral polio vaccine is a weakened virus that activates an immune response in the body.
In 2013, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative announced a six-year, $5.5 billion plan to eradicate all variations of polio worldwide by 2018.