Major Polio Epidemic Hits Yemen

Polio, once virtually eradicated, is making a big comeback over the last two years, with cases reported in 15 previously disease-free countries.

WHO: Major Polio Epidemic Hits Yemen, 22 Infected (Reuters)

A polio epidemic has infected 22 children in Yemen, and the paralyzing virus is threatening to spread further, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday. The United Nations agency, which reported four cases around the Red Sea port city of al-Hudaydah last week, said 18 more children had contracted the disease in the poor Arab state. It is the latest setback to the WHO’s campaign to wipe out transmission of polio worldwide by year-end. An epidemic which originated in Nigeria has swept across Africa since mid-2003. “What we are facing now is a major epidemic of polio in Yemen,” David Heymann, head of the WHO’s polio eradication program, told a news briefing in Geneva.

It was not yet known whether there had been any fatalities among the victims, who include children from all over Yemen. “Experts fear that the number of cases will rise in the immediate future,” the WHO said in a statement. It said it was investigating other suspected cases, and low immunisation rates among Yemeni children could facilitate the outbreak’s spread. The polio virus mainly affects children under the age of five and can cause irreversible paralysis in a matter of hours. Yemen, which last reported polio in 1996, is the 15th previously polio-free country to be reinfected since mid-2003, including 13 in Africa and Saudi Arabia.

All we need is the resurgence of polio. One wonders what’s going on in Africa that’s making it come back. Is it simply poor innoculation programs or are there conditions there that have created drug-resistant strains?

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. RE Gardner says:

    The initial outbreak in Nigeria was mostly caused by fear and ignorance, as Islamic religious leaders denounced immunization programs as a Western plot to sterilize children. It is not drug-resistant strains, it is lack of immunization.

  2. Scott Dillard says:

    RE Gardner is correct. The Muslim religious “leaders” said that the vaccine was designed to sterilize girls, that is was made of pork, that is was an American plot, etc. Thanks to their “wisdom”, hundreds of children were striken with polio, and it has now spread east through Sudan, across the Red Sea to Yemen, and south as far as Botswana. The “enlightenment” of Islam strikes again.

  3. John Thacker says:

    The above two commentators are sadly correct. Paranoia and conspiracy theories, aided and abetted by Muslim religious leaders, have resulted in people avoiding vaccination. Vaccination is still completely effective. Note that the nations hit are overwhelmingly Muslim countries.

    It’s suspicious, to say the least, and disappointing that the above article doesn’t address that fact.