Alarmed by the spread of polio from conflict zones in three continents, the World Health Organization declared an international health emergency on Monday in an effort to contain the disease, a paralyzing virus that was once thought to be nearly eradicated.
An emergency committee convened by the organization announced in Geneva that three countries — Pakistan, Syria and Cameroon — had allowed the virus to spread and should take extraordinary measures to stop it. All children in these countries should be inoculated or reinoculated, and all travelers from these countries should be reinoculated and carry proof in the form of an internationally recognized document, the committee said in a telephone news conference.
The committee’s announcement said that the virus, which mainly affects children under 6, had recently spread back into Afghanistan from Pakistan, into Iraq from Syria and into Equatorial Guinea from Cameroon, and that there was “increasing evidence that adult travelers contributed to this spread,” which “stands in stark contrast to the near-cessation” in recent years.
“If unchecked, this situation could result in failure to eradicate globally one of the world’s most serious vaccine-preventable diseases,” the committee said in a statement.