The Declaration of PHEIC


One of medical field’s heroic conquests was its success against the iconic epidemic ‘Polio.’ The 20th century parents were struck by terror, when a random outbreak of virus paralyzed and killed thousands of infants. The virus multiplies in the gut and could cause paralysis in one out of every 200 infected children, some of whom die after their breathing muscles stop working. This sparked off a worldwide frenzy to identify this abominable virus and to discover a vaccine. In that era of vaccination, one was found for ‘Polio’ and was sent running into its den. It lingered around the poorest of poor nations, in Asia and Africa. Foundations, NGO’s and various governments stood resolute to eradicate polio, on the whole.

We believed that the virus will soon meet its inevitable fate, but its reemergence this year has caused World Health Organization to declare ‘Public Health Emergency of International Concern. The virus’ uprising also threatens the progress made by the multibillion dollar campaigns to eradicate. In 2005, WHO coined the PHEIC declaration when international coordination is required to meet a health threat. The 2009 H1N1 flu (Swine flu) pandemic made WHO to declare PHEIC. Now, it is the second time.


In the late 1980’s the number of polio cases, around the globe, amounted to 300,000. In 2012, there were 212 cases, which made WHO to set a goal of wiping out polio by 2018. But, last year, it rose from 212 to 417 cases, and this year the virus’ resurgence was reported in nearly 7 countries (formerly polio-free countries). Most of these countries are torn away by conflicts, which looks like fine nest for the virus to reestablish itself.

Polio remained endemic in only three countries – Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan. However, this highly infectious virus has revisited seven countries, and the 60 percent of new cases were said to be caused from international spread. On May 5th, WHO imposed a lot of travel restrictions for people living in Syrian Arab Republican, Cameroon, Sudan and Pakistan (“If unchecked, this situation could result in failure to eradicate globally one of the world’s most serious vaccine preventable diseases” announced the emergency committee) . Pakistan is singled out as the source of polio strains that have turned up in Syria, Iraq, Israel, the West Bank and China (these countries suffered from an outbreak in 2011). The unrest in most of these countries makes vaccination efforts very difficult. The Syrian civil war is continuing to displace nearly 9 million people into neighboring countries. Even though, the polio virus attacks children under 6, WHO’s emergency committee said that the adult travelers from the aforementioned countries were to blame, since they carried the virus with them.

Though travel limitations are a right step, it can’t fully destroy the problem, since the reservoir of this virus is thriving in the three countries. WHO remains hopeful about its new efforts to isolate the virus and to declare that the world is ‘polio-free’ within the next four years.


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