Indonesia gears up to curb polio outbreak

Agence France Presse

Jakarta, May 6:

Indonesian health authorities today said they were now treating five cases of polio, raising fears of a wider outbreak more than a decade after the crippling disease was believed to have been eradicated here.

Authorities have launched an immunisation drive targeting more than five million children — who are most vulnerable to polio — to prevent it from spreading.

“We have three other confirmed cases, so the total number is five,” Umar Fahmi Achmadi, health ministry’s director general for communicable diseases, told AFP.

A World Health Organisation officer, Bardan Rana, confirmed three new cases and said the children infected, all under five years old, had not been fully immunised for polio before. “One of them has been immunised but not complete. We are waiting for the lab results for other samples that have been sent. There could probably be other cases,” he said, adding that all confirmed cases were in the same area in the district of Sukabumi in West Java province.

The outbreak is the first in Indonesia since it eradicated polio almost a decade ago. The virus is believed to have been brought here via Saudi Arabia either with migrant workers or Islamic pilgrims returning from Mecca. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said it was helping the health ministry’s campaign to immunise 1,500 children in villages where the outbreak began.

“We are vaccinating 560 children in five villages,” said John Budd, a UNICEF spokesman.

Budd said UNICEF would also contribute $1.3 million to the campaign starting on May 31 to vaccinate 5.2 million children throughout western Java, including Jakarta.

Australia has also agreed to give $781,000) to meet around half the cost of the immunisation campaign, the Australian embassy said in a statement. Australia’s parliamentary secretary for foreign affairs, Bruce Billson, said it was important to ensure the virus did not spread throughout southeast Asia. “The potential risk from the spread of polio virus throughout the region is a very major concern,” he said.