The first suspected case of Polio in 18 years has been confirmed in Papua New Guinea. Yesterday, the World Health Organisation (WHO) announced that there are now three confirmed cases and 55 suspected cases of the deadly virus that attacks the nervous system leading to paralysis and death. Children under the age five are considered the most at risk of contracting Polio, a disease for which there is currently no cure. In the most serious cases, survivors are left with permanent life-changing disabilities.
In response to the recent outbreak, MAF has been assisting health workers to reach remote villages to prevent the outbreak spreading to neighbouring areas. Yesterday, MAF flew a team of health workers out of Tsendiap, Jiwaka Province, where they had been carrying out Polio vaccinations and raising awareness amongst the community of how the disease is spread. Before boarding MAF’s Twin Otter aircraft the team also fixed the solar powered fridge that holds the community’s vaccine stock so staff at the local health post can continue to administer vaccinations.
MAF Communications Officer in PNG, Mandy Glass, interviewed one of the health workers about the Polio prevention work in Tsendiap:
It was hoped, until recently, that Polio would soon be completely eradicated, with a 99% reduction in cases worldwide since 1988. Successful vaccination campaigns have halted its spread in all but three countries, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria. However, according to the WHO, there was always a possibility that a single case could reignite an epidemic of around 200,000 new cases every year, amongst populations at risk. This is sadly what is feared might happen in Papua New Guinea since the first suspected case was discovered in Morobe province on 28th April. Polio vaccination levels in the area had been very low before the outbreak occurred.