Australia supports PNG in the midst of polio outbreak

Kitava, Trobriand Is./Papua New Guinea - April 2 2009: A family sits in the shade of their yam house. Yams are an important staple, and these free standing huts are used to store each year's crop

Australia is helping combat polio and other diseases in Papua New Guinea (PNG).

In the wake of low immunisation rates, PNG has had a surge in preventable diseases such as polio, measles and whooping cough. The Australian government is providing $10 million in support to PNG government’s major vaccination campaign in the hope of avoiding future outbreaks.

The PNG government has declared the recent polio virus outbreak a national public health emergency.

As of last week, Papua New Guinea confirmed a total of 10 polio cases: three in Morobe, two in Eastern Highlands, two in Enga, two in Madang and one in the National Capital District.

“This is very concerning- every new case of polio isn’t just a statistic. Each represents a child that will be permanently paralysed,” said Pasco Kase, PNG’s Secretary of the National Department of Health (NDOH). “In response to this recent case in Port Moresby, the NDOH and partners will start an emergency polio vaccination campaign in September in the National Capital District. A nationwide polio campaign will commence in October.”

Prior to the outbreak the country’s last case of polio occurred in 1996 and the country was declared polio free in 2000, along with the rest of the Pacific region.

The Australian High Commission in Port Moresby is working closely with the PNG government, the World Health Organization and UNICEF to monitor the current polio outbreak and provide response measures including contract tracing, testing as well as vaccination.

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