Emergency Health News Papua New Guinea

The Re-emergence of Polio in Papua New Guinea

By Elizabeth Guka (EMTV cadet journalist-student)

Since the outbreak of polio (also known as poliomyelitis), there have been talks about why this disease has re-emerged in Papua New Guinea after being declared a polio-free zone two decades ago.

Polio, being a highly contagious virus that spreads through the consumption of contaminated water or food contained in the faeces of an infected person, has symptoms which include:

  • Loss of reflexes
  • Severe spasms and muscle pain
  • Loose and floppy limbs, on one or both side of the body
  • Temporary or permanent paralysis which comes suddenly
  • Deformed limbs, especially the hips, ankles, and feet.

The last recorded case of polio in PNG before it was declared polio-free in Papua New Guinea, was in 1996.

In 2000 polio was considered to be completely eradicated in the country, however, after 18 years of being polio-free, the contagious disease is now back in PNG.

Earlier this year, a nine year old boy in a settlement in Enga Province, who had been living with the virus, died as a result of being infected with the disease.

The death of the child launched a nation-wide alert, prompting necessary action from the Government to take place in an effort to prevent its spread.

The health authorities in the country, specifically PNG’s Department of Health has been working closely with the World Health Organisation (WHO) to help stop the spread of polio into other parts of the country.

PNG’s representative for WHO in PNG, Dr Luo Dapeng, said that a million doses of the vaccine are currently in the country, and that work has already started on bringing in more.

“We are in the process together (with the) National Department of Health, UNICEF, and the Global Polio Eradication Initiative bringing more vaccines,” he said.

WHO is recommending that children from ages one to fifteen should be fully vaccinated from the virus by receiving the Oral Polio Vaccine (OPV) or the Inactivated Polio Vaccine (IPV).

Meantime, the administering of the second phase of the polio vaccination has already started in urban clinics in that national capital district and will also start in other rural centres in the country.

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