Polio continues to spread across the Democratic Republic of the Congo despite efforts to contain the disease, sparking concerns it could spread into neighbouring countries and perhaps even further across the African continent.
So far, 29 children have been paralysed in the outbreak which was first reported in June 2017 and has since spread to several provinces of the country. In February this year the Congolese government declared the outbreak to be a national public health emergency.
Now, following the detection of a case in June in Ituri Province, close to the border with Uganda, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said there is a high risk that the three strains of the polio virus currently circulating in the DRC could spread internationally.
“This is a disease that can’t be contained,” said Oliver Rosenbauer of the WHO Global Polio Eradication Initiative. “You either stop the outbreak or it will continue to spread. There is no middle ground.”
According to the WHO, fears the disease could spread are compounded by population movements between Ituri, Uganda, Central African Republic and South Sudan as well as the upcoming rainy season which helps the virus transmit more easily.
Although cases of polio – a debilitating disease that can in some cases causes paralysis – have fallen by 99 per cent since efforts to eradicate the disease were stepped up in 1988, the final push to wipe out the disease has come up against a number of hurdles.