Polio Vaccination Must Be Priority, Unicef Tells Malaysia

Following the first reported polio case in Malaysia 27 years after the last case in 1992, the UN body reiterates the benefits of vaccination.

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 10 — Stopping polio transmission is a priority, Unicef said today after a polio outbreak in Malaysia 27 years after the last case in 1992.

“We must make it a priority to stop its transmission so that every child, regardless of their economic status or origin, is protected against this terrible disease,” Unicef Malaysia representative Marianne Clark-Hattingh said in a statement.

The United Nations agency responsible for providing humanitarian and developmental aid to children around the world added that vaccination is the only effective way to protect children.

A three-month-old Malaysian infant from Tuaran, Sabah, has been reported to have vaccine-derived poliovirus type 1 (VDPV1), 19 years after Malaysia was declared polio-free in 2000.

Tests showed the boy was infected with a polio strain that shared genetic links with the virus detected in the recent Philippine cases, which reported its first cases of polio since 1993 in September. The Philippines reported a fourth polio case last month.

The Sabahan infant previously received a dose of the polio vaccine, but fell ill before the second dose could be administered, health officials said yesterday, adding that he and his family has no history of travelling.

In a joint statement with the World Health Organization (WHO) yesterday, Unicef and WHO said parents and caregivers need to ensure that all children under the age of 5 are vaccinated.

“Polio vaccines are extremely safe and effective and have resulted in global cases decreasing by over 99 per cent,” they said. “Polio vaccines must be administered multiple times to stop outbreaks and protect children.”

“We are deeply concerned about the confirmed case of polio in Sabah,” added Dr Ying-Ru Lo, WHO’s representative in Malaysia.

“WHO, alongside Unicef, stands ready to support the Ministry of Health in responding to this outbreak and ensuring that all children in Malaysia receive the full protection of polio vaccines.”

The two groups added that they have been providing technical advice on the outbreak response in the Philippines, the nearest Malaysia state to which is Sabah, on-the-ground monitoring and support for risk communication.

The three-month-old child developed fever and paralysis on October 26. On December 6, testing by WHO’s Regional Polio Reference Laboratory in Melbourne, Australia, confirmed that the child had poliovirus.

Polio spreads in populations with low immunisation coverage. The virus has the potential to cause paralysis or occasionally, death.

The poliovirus that the infant boy has only occurs if a population is seriously under-immunised, WHO and Unicef said.

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