WHO Disproves Claims of Polio Return in Venezuela

The World Health Organisation clarified that the case in question was not caused by polio.

By Paul Dobson
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The World Health Organisation clarified that the case in question was not caused by polio.
The World Health Organisation clarified that the case in question was not caused by polio.

Merida, June 21, 2018 (venezuelanalysis.com) – The World Health Organisation (WHO) has categorically disproved a recent flurry of mainstream media claims that polio had returned to Venezuela.

“Tests carried out by the specialized global laboratory for genetic sequencing have ruled out the presence of both wild poliovirus and vaccine-derived poliovirus (VDPV),” clarified a press release by the WHO and their regional body, the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO), on June 15.

Rumours of a return of polio to Venezuela began after the PAHO diagnosed acute flaccid paralysis (AFP) in a 34-month-old boy in the Orinoco Delta (Northeast) region of Venezuela earlier in June. The paralysis had begun on April 29.

As the WHO statement points out, polio is just one of many possible causes of AFP.  AFP allegedly affects more than 100,000 people across the globe every year.

Following initial PAHO investigations, type 3 poliovirus was found in the child’s stool samples, spurring rumours of a return of the disease in the Latin American region.

However, further WHO and PAHO studies confirm that the paralysis was caused by factors other than polio, and that the viral trace was most likely due to immunization programs in the community.

“Isolation of Sabin type 3 poliovirus is possible in children and communities immunized with oral bivalent polio vaccine, which contains attenuated (weakened) type 1 and type 3 Sabin strains,” the health body explained.

Whilst the child in question had not been vaccinated, a June 15 update from the WHO suggested that the infection may have been spread by the “faecal-oral route” from other children in the community who had been inoculated.

Poliomyelitis, better known as polio, is a highly infectious viral disease that invades the brain and spinal cord and causes permanent paralysis in a small proportion of patients. It has no known cure, and was formally eradicated from Venezuela in 1989. According to WHO data, it persists only in Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan.

Mainstream press outlets such as US-based CNN, Britain’s The Economist and The Telegraph and Hong Kong’s Standard seized upon rumours of polio’s return to the under-siege Caribbean country.

Whilst some outlets clarified that WHO sources did not confirm the presence of polio, alarmist headlines such as “Polio Returns to Impoverished Venezuela” often misled readers.

Some headlines were also combined with images from the 2014 Liberia Ebola outbreak and quotes from Venezuelan anti-government figures to suggest that the child’s paralysis was a result of a “humanitarian and health care crisis” and government inefficiency in immunization programs.

According to CNN sources, an eight-year-old girl in the same community was also allegedly suffering from AFP. However, the WHO have since clarified that “Preliminary results of the field investigation… have ruled out that this is a case of AFP.”

They also affirm that “No additional AFP cases have been identified to date through active search for AFP cases carried out in the community.”

The WHO stated that the young boy who is suffering from AFP is being evaluated to determine the alternative causes of the paralysis, which will be determined by “clinical and virological criteria,” with final results expected later this month.

Although the child’s condition was not due to poor vaccine coverage, Venezuela is nonetheless suffering from gaps in its medical programs, including a rise in malaria, which government sources attribute to a US-led economic blockade.

Venezuela’s government has denounced numerous cases of financial obstruction of vital medical import payments. UN Rapporteur Alfred de Zayas has claimed that the sanctions cause “death” in the country.

According to government data, in July 2017 Citibank blocked funds for 300,000 insulin doses, which would have benefited 450,000 Venezuelan patients. Additionally, they claim that in October 2017 Swiss bank UBS obstructed the payment of vaccine imports through the PAHO Resolving and Strategic Fund, provoking a four-month supply delay.

In November 2017 the Venezuelan government criticised an alleged blocking of anti-malaria medicine by the Colombian authorities and maintained that the US-based health multinationals Pfizer and Baster Abbot had refused to issue export certificates for cancer drugs sold to Venezuela.

Additionally, the Venezuelan government claims that this year US $9 million for the purchase of dialysis supplies for 15,000 patients have been blocked.

Despite the sanctions, President Nicolas Maduro’s government launched a new vaccination campaign in April, and has worked to diversify its medical providers, working closely with the governments of India, Turkey and Russia.