WHO declares polio 'public health emergency' after new cases in 10 countries

A landslide-affected child receives polio vaccination drops during aid distribution at the scene of the disaster in Argo district of Badakhshan on May 4, 2014. The World Health Organisation on Monday warned that the crippling disease polio has r
A landslide-affected child receives polio vaccination drops during aid distribution at the scene of the disaster in Argo district of Badakhshan on May 4, 2014. The World Health Organisation on Monday warned that the crippling disease polio has re-emerged as a public health emergency, after new cases surfaced in a range of countries.  -- PHOTO: AFP

GENEVA (AFP) - The World Health Organisation on Monday warned that the crippling disease polio has re-emerged as a public health emergency, after new cases surfaced in a range of countries.

"The conditions for a public health emergency of international concern have been met," WHO assistant director general Bruce Aylward told reporters in Geneva following crisis talks on the virus long thought to be on the road to extinction.

"If unchecked, this situation could result in failure to eradicate globally one of the world's most serious vaccine preventable diseases," he added.

The WHO convened the emergency talks last week after the virus was discovered in 10 countries, including three where it is still considered endemic: Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan.

In 1988, the disease was endemic in 125 countries. The decision to categorise polio as a public health emergency brings with it recommendations for countries where the disease is endemic to implement vaccine requirements for anyone wishing to travel abroad.

Polio, a crippling and potentially fatal viral disease that mainly affects children under the age of five, has come close to being beaten as the result of a 25-year effort. The number of recorded cases worldwide has plunged from 350,000 in 1988 to 417 in 2013, according to WHO data.

So far this year, 74 cases have been spotted worldwide - 59 of them in Pakistan, Mr Aylward said.