Vietnam on alert about polio's global creep

Thanh Nien News

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An officer operates a thermal scanner at Hanoi's Noi Bai International Airport / PHOTO: VNA
The Ministry of Health has ordered its agencies to stay on alert as wild poliovirus creeps across war-torn corners of the globe.
The order came in the wake of the World Health Organization (WHO)’s warning about the “extraordinary event” which was deemed a public health risk in other countries.
Wild poliovirus, which mainly affects children five and under, causes irreversible paralysis in one in 200 infections. Polio (poliomyelitis), the disease caused by the virus, has been nearly eradicated in the world.
Reported cases fell from 350,000 in 1988 to 406 last year.
Vietnam was certified as being free of polio in 2000, Vietnam News Agency reported Thursday.
However, the WHO said 68 cases have been confirmed globally as of April 29, compared to 24 cases reported over the same period last year.
The affected countries include Afghanistan, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Iraq, Israel, Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia, and the Syrian Arab Republic, of which Pakistan was the hardest hit with 54 cases so far.
According to the WHO, the virus migrated during the low season from Pakistan to Afghanistan, from Syrian Arab Republic to Iraq, and from Cameroon to Equatorial Guinea.
It said 60 percent of polio cases reported at the end of last year were the result of wild polioviruses’ international spread, and that there was increasing evidence that adult travelers contributed to this spread.
"If unchecked, this situation could result in failure to eradicate globally one of the world’s most serious vaccine preventable diseases," WHO said in a statement.
Reduced vaccination
While polio is incurable but preventable through vaccination, Vietnam suffered a sudden drop in vaccination rates after a dozen infant deaths were linked to a flawed Dutch vaccine.
In an interview with Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper on Wednesday, Nguyen Tran Hien, chairman of the National Extended Vaccination Program, said only 56 percent of newborns got hepatitis B shots last year, following the deaths of three newborns who died after being vaccinated in the central province of Quang Tri in July.
The rate was 75 percent in 2012.
After Quinvaxem (a five-in-one shot linked to the deaths of 12 infants since 2012) was suspended for five months last year when vaccination rates fell to 59.4 percent from 96 percent the previous year, Hien said.
According to the National Extended Vaccination Program, the suspension of Quinvaxem also affected the rate of babies getting polio vaccines.
Only 48.7 percent of babies got the polio vaccine in Ho Chi Minh City last year, according to the program's findings.
Hien said that Vietnam has used oral polio vaccine since 1960. The oral version is cheap but implies risk of mutating the virus; so the country plans to switch to the injectable vaccine next October with support from the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization.

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