Pakistan, Nigeria to tighten security for polio workers


Feb 11, 2013 (CIDRAP News) – Health officials in Pakistan and Nigeria recently announced that they would step up security to protect polio vaccination workers in the wake of recent fatal attacks by terrorists in both countries.

Masood Kahn, a Pakistani ambassador, told the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) executive board that the country is investing substantial human and financial resources to eradicate polio, according to a report today from the Associated Press of Pakistan (APP).

Pakistan and Nigeria are among three countries in which the disease is still endemic. Global health officials have said wild poliovirus (WPV) transmission in endemic areas is a threat to other regions that have already stopped the disease.

Kahn told the group that, despite several attacks on vaccination workers in recent months, Pakistan's government has taken additional steps to ensure the safety and security of vaccination teams.

Meanwhile, Mohammed Abubakar, Nigeria's inspector-general of police, has ordered extra security for health workers helping with immunization and other special projects, according to a report today from The Punch, a daily newspaper based in Nigeria. He directed all police commissioners and zonal police officials, especially ones in northern states, to develop customized security strategies to prevent future attacks.

Another police official said an investigation into the attack that killed nine female polio workers at two clinics in Kano state is under way, according to the report.

On Feb 8 the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF issued a joint statement condemning the attacks on the health workers in Nigeria. "Such attacks are a double tragedy; for the health workers and their families and for the children and vulnerable populations who are robbed of basic life-saving health interventions. These attacks are unacceptable under any circumstance," the groups said.

WHO on Egypt's WPV samples
In another polio development, the WHO said today in a statement that the recent detection of WPV type 1 in sewage samples in Cairo poses a moderate risk of spread from Egypt. The virus had genetic links to strains in northern Pakistan. The agency added that the risk of further international spread from Pakistan is high.

In 2011 WPV from Pakistan spread to China, which sparked an outbreak in Xinjiang province in the western part of the country, which caused 21 cases.

The sewage samples that yielded evidence of WPV1 were collected during routine surveillance for the disease in early December. The WHO reported the initial findings and planned response activities, which included immunization and enhanced surveillance, on Jan 18. Supplementary immunization activities took place from Feb 2 through Feb 6 in the two areas of Cairo where the positive environmental samples were collected, reaching 155,000 children with trivalent vaccine.

Vaccination campaigns are slated for other parts of Cairo in early March, with a goal of reaching 3 million children with monovalent type 1 vaccine. A nationwide campaign in April will target 12 million children with trivalent vaccine.

The WHO said a national and international team of epidemiologists and public health workers is assisting with investigations, planning response activities, and beefing up surveillance for potential cases of paralytic polio.

See also:

Feb 11 APP story

Feb 11 Punch story

Feb 8 WHO-UNICEF joint statement

Feb 11 WHO statement on poliovirus environmental samples in Egypt

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