Poliomyelitis, also known as polio, is a highly infectious viral disease that mainly affects children.
The virus is transmitted from person-to-person and spread through the faecal-oral route, contaminated water or food.Symptoms of polio include fever, sore throat, headache, vomiting, fatigue, back pain, neck pain or stiffness in the arms or legs and muscle weakness or tenderness.
The disease can be potentially deadly, as it can reduce breathing capacity and cause difficulty in swallowing and speaking.
Despite the many years of research into the disease by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and other bodies, there is still no cure for it and can only be prevented by immunisation. But following various initiatives and interventions, the number of cases of the disease has been successfully reduced worldwide by over 99 per cent.
The WHO Region of the Americas was certified polio-free in 1994, followed by the WHO Western Pacific Region in 2000 and the WHO European Region in June 2002.
In 2014, the WHO South-East Asia Region was also certified polio-free, all of which marked significant breakthroughs in global eradication.
It is significant because the actions have resulted in about 80 per cent of the world’s population living in certified polio-free regions. Several millions of people who would otherwise have been paralysed are able to walk and many deaths have been prevented.
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Ghana was declared polio-free in 2009, and in April this year when it marked 10 years of its polio-free status, it had not recorded a single case of the disease.
But the WHO warns that if a single child remains infected, children in all countries are at risk of contracting the disease.
That is why the Daily Graphic is worried about news that the polio virus was found in a sewage in the Tamale municipality during an environmental health surveillance last week.
Already, the WHO has cautioned that failure to eradicate polio from endemic areas such as Pakistan, Nigeria and Afghanistan could result in as many as 200,000 new cases every year globally. This calls for determined and strong action by the Ghanaian health authorities to ensure that the disease is not transmitted to humans.
The Daily Graphic commends the Ghana Health Service (GHS) for its effective surveillance that made it possible for it to detect the virus on time.
Meanwhile, we are not sure whether the virus has already been transmitted to humans, and that is why we think the GHS, together with its partners, should be lauded for initiating actions, including a detailed field investigation by researchers, to assess and identify the possible source of infection and determine the extent of geographic spread.
It is also heart-warming the assurance given by the Director of Public Health at the GHS, Dr Badu Sarkodie, that should reports suggest even a small percentage of children not vaccinated against polio, the GHS would declare a mass vaccination exercise countrywide for children under five years, as there is no cure for polio yet.
Already, it is suspected the resurface of the virus might have been as a result of cross-border contamination and this is highly possible because of our porous borders. We must, therefore, continue to conduct and strengthen our routine environmental surveillance to be able to detect such threats in time, as we have done.
We join the ministry to encourage Ghanaians to observe improved personal hygiene and good sanitation practices and report any symptoms of the disease to the health authorities to prevent its further spread and protect humans.