It looks like I am at ground zero of a polio outbreak. In Tajikistan, where I live, 171 cases of acute flaccid paralysis have been reported by the Ministry of Health since January. (Acute flaccid paralysis is what they call it before the tests confirm it’s polio.) 32 cases have been confirmed as polio. Twelve people have died.
The WHO and the Ministry of Health are in rapid response mode. The government of Tajikistan plans to provide three supplementary doses of polio vaccine to every child in the country under five. That’s over a million children, and they plan to vaccinate all of them by June 5th. They have started in Dushanbe already, and they will expand into surrounding regions and throughout the country.
It’s not an over-reaction. The virus in question is the wild poliomyelitis virus. In other words, it hasn’t been caused by the vaccine itself. Gene sequencing indicates that the virus is most closely related to wild polio from Uttar Pradesh, India. We’ve already got polio in Pakistan and India. If Tajikistan doesn’t get on top of this, we could be looking at a polio belt from the subcontinent to Central Asia, with spillover into Iran and possibly China.
I think Tajikistan is going to put a stop to the outbreak. We just completed a national measles vaccination campaign last year, so the systems are in place. International donors are ready to support the immunization effort. We’ll see what it looks like a month from now, but this appears to be a problem that can be solved.