Angola polio outbreak a threat to neighboring countires, WHO says

Officials with the World Health Organization said an outbreak of polio in Angola has become a matter of international concern as it now threatens neighboring countries.

The outbreak began in 2007 after the country had been polio-free for six years. This year, Angola has recorded 24 cases of polio. There were also 29 reported cases in 2009 and 29 cases in 2008 too, WHO spokeswoman Sona Bari said, Reuters reports.

“It is the only expanding outbreak in all of Africa, spreading both within Angola and into the Democratic Republic of Congo,” Bari told Reuters. “It's a high threat to neighboring countries.”

The WHO, UNICEF, Rotary International and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have been working together since 1988 to eradicate polio with a target goal of eradication by 2000.

Bari said that the initial target year of 2000 may have been over-optimistic. She told Reuters that Afghanistan, India, Nigeria and Pakistan are still endemic polio countries and have been unable to stop the virus. Other countries, including Angola, have only stopped polio temporarily.

One WHO concern is that the virus can be imported from endemic areas to cause fresh outbreaks in other areas, like those currently affecting Angola and Tajikistan. Tajikistan has seen 458 polio cases this year.

Bari said that Angola's inability to halt the outbreak is mainly due to poorly run vaccination campaigns.

“Polio can only be stopped if every child is given the oral polio vaccine, and campaigns to date have sometimes missed more than a third of children in critical transmission areas such as Luanda,” Bari said, Reuters reports.

The WHO will be holding two nationwide polio vaccination campaigns in Angola in October. Officials hope to vaccinate 5.6 million children under five years of age during each campaign.

Bari pointed to recent vaccination campaign successes in Nigeria. Nigeria has only reported seven polio cases so far this year, down from 388 in 2009.

“There's not really any reason why Angola can't do this -- its population is less dense than northern Nigeria and it has fewer health and sanitation problems, so it's really a question of having proper supervision both at national and local levels,” Bari said, according to Reuters.