Health groups slam Ukraine for slow polio response

9th October 2015, Comments 0 comments

Global health groups accused Ukraine on Friday of being critically late and ineffective in responding to Europe's first polio outbreak since 2010.

The World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed in late August that two Ukrainian children had been crippled by the virus in the former Soviet state's southwestern Zakarpattya region.

Both the WHO and the Kiev government blamed the cases -- the first in Ukraine since 1996 -- on low vaccination coverage throughout the war-torn state.

Three global health groups accused Ukraine's health authorities on Friday of having done little to nothing since then to prevent the situation from spiralling out of control.

"No other country in the world is in such a dire situation or shows such disregard for protecting children against childhood diseases," Ellyn Ogden of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) told reporters.

"International experience has shown that slow, inadequate response drags outbreaks out and increases cost and potential for international spread."

"Children in Ukraine have not been vaccinated against polio since 2008," USAID's worldwide polio eradication coordinator Ogden said.

The United Nations' children's relief body UNICEF and the WHO warned that Ukraine's inaction is putting the lives of up to 1.8 million children at risk.

"Risk of further polio outbreak remains unless a full-scale immunisation campaign begins immediately to stop the transmission of the polio virus," UNICEF and the WHO said in a joint statement.

UNICEF said it has procured 3.7 million oral polio vaccines for the cash-strapped country with the help of funding from Canada -- a Kiev ally that has one of the world's largest Ukrainian diasporas.

The WHO has since pronounced the treatments completely safe.

But Ukrainian Health Minister Alexander Kvitashvili told reporters that "some doubts remained about storage conditions of the first portion of the vaccine that arrived from Canada."

"But the second portion is absolutely fine and ready for use now," he added.

"Today, the health ministry is actually starting its vaccination campaign. I have already signed the corresponding decree," Kvitashvili assured.

Polio can lead to irreversible paralysis and mostly affects children under the age of five.

The WHO recorded only 416 worldwide polio cases in 2013 -- down from the 350,000 registered in 1988.

© 2015 AFP

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