Despite the recent $700 million donation from Bill Gates to help eradicate polio around the globe, as of last summer the disease was spreading across Africa, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). And last week the WHO confirmed at least 120 cases of polio in Tajikistan, the small country of about 7.3 million people that borders China and Afghanistan. Prior to last week’s outbreak, the country hadn’t had a case of the disease since 1997. According to the WHO, at least seven children in Tajikistan had suffered paralysis due to the poliovirus as of April 23. Reports from the AFP indicate that 10 children have died due to this latest outbreak, and that 128 cases have been confirmed.
The Tajikistan outbreak prompted the WHO to launch a week-long vaccination campaign for 155 million children in 18 countries—including one million doses of the polio vaccine to be given to children in Tajikistan. According to the global health agency, all of the cases reported in Tajikistan were limited to the southwest of the country, in the area bordering Uzbekistan and Afghanistan. (There were 38 reported cases of polio in Afghanistan in 2009, and 8 new cases reported as of early April this year.) The new outbreak comes just weeks after the WHO was heralding progress in beating back the disease—on April 12 the New York Times reported figures indicating that polio cases were down by 75% from that time the previous year. An official from the Centers for Disease Control expressed optimism, telling the Times: “A 75 percent decline in a year is pretty remarkable and suggests we may be turning the corner.” Hopefully he didn’t speak too soon.