Health

Polio may resurge globally, WHO says, as countries pledge funds

Various governments pledged $2.6 billion US on Tuesday toward a global plan to again try to eradicate polio, following its comeback, the World Health Organization says.

New detections are a 'stark reminder' of need for action

A child receives free oral polio vaccine.
Doctors say as long as the polio virus still exists somewhere in the world, it can spread to people in other countries. (Eloisa Lopez/Reuters)

Various governments pledged $2.6 billion US on Tuesday toward a global plan to again try to eradicate polio, following its comeback, the World Health Organization says.

New cases of the disease in previously polio-free countries are a "stark reminder" that if polio is not ended "everywhere, it may resurge globally," WHO Director General Tedros Ghebreyesus said in a statement as the UN body wrapped up its World Health Summit in Berlin.

The money — from countries including the U.S., Australia, France, Germany and Japan — will go through the Global Polio Eradication Initiative and will also be used to stop outbreaks of new variants of the virus.

Wild polio virus is found in just two countries: Pakistan and Afghanistan. After just six cases were recorded last year, 29 have been recorded so far in 2022, including a small number of new detections in southeast Africa linked to a strain originating in Pakistan. 

This year, health officials found polio spread among the non- and under-vaccinated in the U.S., Israel and the U.K. In New York state this summer, a young man experienced paralysis after a polio infection, the first case in the U.S. in nearly a decade. 

Public health physicians say that as long as the virus still exists somewhere in the world, it can spread.

Polio is a highly infectious disease spread mainly through contamination by fecal matter. It used to kill and paralyze thousands of children each year around the world. An epidemic in Canada in 1953 hit nearly 9,000 people and killed 500. At the time, it was the most severe epidemic in the country since the 1918 flu pandemic.

There is no known cure, but a full course of vaccines provides nearly 100 per cent immunity, doctors say. 

However, vaccination rates for polio and measles declined in Canada among babies born during the COVID-19 pandemic due to missed routine immunizations when family physician offices closed down, doctors say. 

Non-governmental organizations, such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America, Latter-day Saint Charities and Rotary International, also made pledges toward eradicating polio at the summit. 

With files from Reuters and The Associated Press

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