- Indonesia's first polio case in a decade originates from Nigeria, according to DNA tests done on a viral sample. Polio, which almost was eradicated before clerics in northern Nigeria halted vaccination in 2003, is now again spreading rapidly. In Nigeria, meanwhile, polio is now on the retreat.
Officials from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Indonesian government were shocked this week, when it was established that the first polio case in a decade had been detected on the island of Java. Three more polio cases in western Java were confirmed today and there were even more suspected cases still to be confirmed.
The WHO today could reveal that far-away Nigeria is the source of this new polio outbreak in Indonesia. The UN agency had commissioned DNA tests on a viral sample from one of the infected children, and a laboratory determined that the polio arrived in Indonesia from Nigeria, probably via Saudi Arabia. The polio virus has several genetic strains, making it possible to detect its geographic origin.
Health officials assume that the spread from northern Nigeria to Indonesia could have happened as a result of the Hajj, where Muslim pilgrims from all over the world visit holy cities in Saudi Arabia. Alternatively, transmission could have passed through the many migrant workers staying in Saudi Arabia, including Nigerians and Indonesians.
Polio, a paralysing, non-curable disease, was close to be eradicated from the face of the earth in 2003 through giant world-wide vaccination efforts. The progress however suddenly stopped as clerics in Northern Nigeria spread rumours that the vaccine aimed at making Muslims infertile or even at spreading AIDS. Vaccination programmes thus stopped for over one year in Northern Nigeria, which already then had the world's highest polio rate.
During that year, the polio virus was able to double its new infection rate in Northern Nigeria and spread into neighbour countries that had already rooted out the virus. By now, most West African countries have had to launch costly new polio vaccine campaigns, and new polio cases of the Nigerian strain have appeared in around 20 countries, including Sudan, Botswana, Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia and now Indonesia.
In Northern Nigeria, however, new mass vaccination efforts have managed to curb the advancement of the disease. According to the latest WHO statistics, only 54 new polio cases had been recorded in all of Nigeria between February and April this year. This represents a reduction of almost 50 percent, WHO noted in its weekly report.
The UN agency's efforts to fight polio now are strongest in Nigeria, the country that still accounts for around two thirds of new polio cases world-wide. Nigeria was part of a mass vaccination campaign in 23 African countries in February, which reached a total of 100 million children. The next round of immunisation in Nigeria is set for 14 to 17 May.
In Indonesia, on the other hand, authorities now have to start planning for new and costly polio vaccination programmes. As polio was thought to have been eradicated, a new generation was growing up without being vaccinated. In Indonesia at large, the polio vaccination rate is set at almost 90 percent, while the affected western Java region only had a vaccination rate of around 55 percent. The government now plans to immunise 5 million children here.
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