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Health

Polio outbreak in Europe

Gleb Garanich/Reuters

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has called on the Ukraine government to declare a state of emergency following a recent outbreak of polio in the country. Earlier this year the Ukraine announced two new polio cases--the first in Europe since 2010. The WHO are hoping that by declaring a state of emergency, it will prompt more action from the government in Kiev.

A perfect storm is brewing in the country that, if left unchecked, could have disastrous consequences for the Ukraine, and indeed, the world. In Ukraine only 50% of its children are vaccinated against polio--an extremely low rate for a developed country. And with the country currently torn by fighting, vaccine programmes can struggle to reach the children that need it the most.

The oral polio vaccine, like many vaccines, contains a weakened live virus that helps your body build immunity. In extremely rare cases, this can mutate and infect people close by who have not been vaccinated against the disease. This is what happened in the Ukraine when two unvaccinated children, one just 10 months old, were paralysed by the virus.

In the majority of countries in the world, this isn’t an issue as vaccine coverage rates are extremely high. But because only half of the Ukraine’s children are covered by the vaccine, there are grave concerns that this could escalate if not dealt with immediately

Action is underway though. In October the Ukrainian government, with the help of Canada, launched a polio vaccine campaign that hopes to vaccinate 90% of children under 5. It is hoped that if the government takes the advice of the WHO and declares a state of emergency, other government departments will mobilise to support the campaign.

The outbreak in the Ukraine reminds the world of the importance of vaccination programmes. Without universal coverage, cases like Ukraine could become a recurring issue, unravelling 30 years of exemplary work that has seen 99.9% of the virus eradicated.

A scary thought that needs immediate attention.