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Polio outbreak in Papua New Guinea reaches capital Port Moresby

The Guardian logo The Guardian 11/09/2018 Kate Lyons

A mother and baby at a polio vaccination clinic in Lae, Marobe province, Papua New Guinea. © EPA A mother and baby at a polio vaccination clinic in Lae, Marobe province, Papua New Guinea. An outbreak of polio in Papua New Guinea has reached Port Moresby, with the first case in the nation’s capital prompting an emergency vaccination campaign.A six-year-old boy from the capital’s Five Mile settlement was confirmed as infected after laboratory tests were conducted in Australia.

Papua New Guinea was declared polio-free in 2000 but in 2018 there has been an outbreak with 10 confirmed cases of the disease, which largely affects young children.

The capital is home to roughly 300,000 people. Previous cases were found in more remote parts of the country: three in Morobe, two in Eastern Highlands, two in Enga and two in Madang.

“This is very concerning – every new case of polio isn’t just a statistic. Each represents a child that will be permanently paralysed,” said Pasco Kase, secretary of the national department of health.

In response the government will conduct an emergency vaccination campaign in Port Moresby beginning on 24 September, with a nationwide campaign to follow on 1 October.

Port Moresby is due to host the Apec summit in November with world leaders including Chinese president Xi Jinping, Australian prime minister Scott Morrison and US vice president Mike Pence due to attend.

The lead-up to the summit has been fraught, as the poorest nation in the Apec group has scrambled to prepare buildings, accommodation and infrastructure. There are also concerns about security given the high rates of crime in Port Moresby.

The WHO representative in Papua New Guinea, Dr Luo Dapeng, said: “The confirmation of polio in an urban area is very worrisome.” Dapeng said the PNG government and partner organisations were going to “rapidly scale up” the response in Port Moresby and were continuing to search for all possible cases. Efforts were being concentrated in densely populated areas such as settlements, mining communities and areas with significant movement of people.

The first cases were detected in the Morobe province on the north coast of the country, where polio vaccine coverage is low. Water, sanitation and hygiene are serious challenges in the region, adding to the crisis of controlling the highly infectious virus.

The estimated budget for the outbreak response plan is US$15.4m and the PNG government has pledged roughly $2.2m toward the effort, with other money coming from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the governments of the United States, Canada and Korea.

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