BEIJING (AP) — Chinese health authorities have vaccinated more than 9 million people in a far western region against polio amid an outbreak of the disease that has paralysed 17 people and killed one of them.
China had been free for 11 years of the paralytic disease that mostly hits children before the first few cases were reported in July in Hotan prefecture in Xinjiang. The outbreak has exposed gaps in vaccination coverage in the remote region where access to quality health services is poor.
The World Health organisation says the polio strain detected in China had traveled from Pakistan, which borders Xinjiang and is one of four countries where the disease remains endemic. The other countries are India, Afghanistan and Nigeria.
“Overall, China, including in Xinjiang province, has good routine immunization coverage,” said Oliver Rosenbauer, a press officer for the WHO’s polio eradication drive in Geneva said Tuesday. But, he added, the virus has “a knack of finding any susceptible groups. Any chink in your armour, this virus is able to find.”
“It underscores the ongoing risk that endemic transmission continues to pose everywhere,” Rosenbauer said.
The Xinjiang Health Bureau said in a report on its website that the first round of vaccinations was administered last month over three periods to cover children and people aged 15 to 39 in Hotan and surrounding areas. It said this totals more than 9.3 million people.
The WHO said a genetic link had been confirmed between the wild poliovirus type 1 detected in China and a strain circulating in Pakistan. The agency says type 1 is more dangerous than type 3 because it is more likely to cause paralysis and spreads more easily. Type 2 polio has been eradicated.
The global health body says countries should strengthen their disease surveillance systems and travellers to Pakistan should be vaccinated against polio.
Since 1998, the World Health organisation and partners have been trying to get rid of polio. But progress has stalled in recent years and some have questioned whether polio can actually be eradicated.
Polio is a waterborne disease that mostly strikes children under five. To eradicate it, officials need to immunize more than 90 per cent of children in the handful of countries where it still circulates.
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