Nearly 1.1 million young children in Tajikistan will start receiving vaccines next week against polio, the sometimes deadly disease which has returned to the Central Asian country where it was thought to have been eradicated 13 years ago, United Nations agencies reported today.
At least 32 wild poliovirus cases in Tajikistan have been confirmed as of yesterday, and 139 other cases in the same outbreak are being investigated, according to the UN World Health Organization (WHO). So far 12 people have died since March.
An estimated 4 million doses of oral polio vaccines, procured by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), reached the Tajik capital Dushanbe earlier this week and are now being distributed to health-care centres across the mountainous country, UNICEF spokesperson Christiane Berthiaume told journalists in Geneva.
Starting early next week almost 1.1 million children aged six and under will receive two drops of the oral polio vaccine, according to Ms. Berthiaume. Each child will then receive the same dose twice more during future vaccination rounds.
The current outbreak – the first in Tajikistan since 1997 – is concentrated in young children. All but one of the 32 confirmed cases involves a child aged five or under.
WHO spokesperson Fadela Chaib said genetic sequencing from the confirmed cases indicated that this latest poliovirus is most closely related to a virus from Uttar Pradesh state in India.
All cases have been recorded in south-western Tajikistan, close to the border with Uzbekistan and Afghanistan. Authorities in Uzbekistan and neighbouring Kyrgyzstan have begun planning supplementary rounds of immunization next month to try to avert a possible spread of the outbreak.
Polio, sometimes called poliomyelitis, is a highly infectious and sometimes fatal disease, and is often marked by acute flaccid paralysis among sufferers. It has been eradicated from much of the world, but experience shows that the virus can travel far relatively rapidly.