WASHINGTON, United States (CMC) — Caribbean countries are being urged to take immediate action to increase polio vaccination coverage to 95 per cent as the world observes World Polio Day on Wednesday.
The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) made the call amid reports that coverage in many countries of the Americas is below recommended levels.
“The Americas have remained free from cases of wild poliovirus for 27 years, with the last case detected on August 23, 1991, in Peru. The countries of the region were able to eliminate polio by achieving high rates of vaccination coverage of children and through sustained epidemiological surveillance to ensure early detection of any outbreaks,” PAHO said.
But Dr Jarbas Barbosa, the PAHO Assistant Director, said while region is polio free “as long as even one case of polio exists in any part of the world, we are still at risk”.
“By achieving and maintaining high vaccination coverage and by strengthening epidemiological surveillance, we can make the dream of a polio free future for the world, a reality,” he said.
PAHO said recent reports, however, show that countries are not maintaining the 95 per cent vaccination coverage rate required at all levels to prevent polio transmission.
“This means that some communities are at risk of being unable to prevent an outbreak should an imported case occur or if there is an emergence of vaccine-derived poliovirus (VDPV),” it said.
PAHO said poliomyelitis is a highly contagious disease caused by a virus that invades the nervous system, resulting in paralysis in a matter of hours.
It mostly affects children under the age of five and is transmitted by person-to-person. While there is no cure, PAHO said the virus is preventable by vaccine. It said polio vaccine, given multiple times, can protect a child for life.
In 1975, PAHO said nearly 6,000 cases of polio were reported in the region of the Americas; and, in 1991, the last six cases were detected.
Three years later, in 1994, the disease was formally declared eliminated from the region.
PAHO said, since then, no child has been paralysed by wild poliovirus in the Americas.
As the first region of the world to eliminate polio, PAHO said it and the Americas have led the way toward a world free from the disease.
PAHO said it is currently working with countries to ensure that every year more than 95 per cent of children under the age of 1 are vaccinated against polio in every municipality in the countries of the Americas.
“There is no place for complacency when it comes to keeping the Americas polio-free,” said Cuauhtémoc Ruiz Matus, Head of the Comprehensive Family Immunization Unit at PAHO.
“Vaccination coverage rates must be increased immediately in order to protect the children of our region from this deadly disease. As long as polio exists anywhere, it is a threat to children everywhere.”