Seven die in polio outbreak in Namibia

BMJ 2006; 332 doi: (Published 15 June 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;332:1408
  1. Pat Sidley
  1. Johannesburg

    The Namibian government has launched a mass immunisation programme against polio after at least 34 people developed the disease and seven died from it.

    However, the programme's success will depend on the country's ability to import sufficient vaccine and find the money to pay for it. The World Health Organization has committed itself to helping the programme, as has neighbouring South Africa.

    The outbreak ended a 10 year period in which the country was free from the virus. Diagnosis of the cases was made rather late in the day after reports of a “mystery disease” causing paralysis had surfaced. Samples were sent to South Africa to confirm the identification.

    Namibia's northern neighbour, Angola, reported an outbreak of polio last year. Angola, still recovering from a long period of civil war, has had outbreaks of infection of Marburg virus as well. The reported cases of polio were hundreds of kilometres apart, prompting fears that there may have been more unreported cases in the country.

    South Africa has now been placed on alert, and efforts aimed at keeping the country free of the disease have been put into place, said South Africa's health minister, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang.

    Last year South Africans were warned to get vaccinated before travelling to Angola—a warning that will now apply to the considerable amount of travel between South Africa and Namibia.

    The disease was reported in two towns in Namibia in separate areas.

    There has been some controversy in Namibia over a reported delay in dealing with the outbreak. Some people have claimed that the outbreak had been known about for two weeks before the government confirmed it.

    The government, however, seemed to have been stumped by the disease, which doctors considered a mystery, and it therefore failed to put adequate measures in place, not knowing what to do. People had been warned of the spread of the disease and told to wash their hands and drink clean water, The Namibian reported.

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