MYANMAR: Rakhine State – Health officials are battling to prevent the return of polio to the country after an apparent resurgence of a vaccine-derived strain in northern Rakhine State.
Polio was eradicated in Myanmar last year. But two cases have been detected in remote villages suggesting that the victims – two five-year-old children – have been infected not by the wild virus, but as a by-product of earlier vaccination campaigns.
Now the health ministry is planning a mass polio vaccination program in 10 townships of northern Rakhine to wipe out the new strain.
U Thaung Hlaing, health director in Rakhine State, said vaccine-derived polio virus was detected in two children from Maungdaw township, one in May and one in November.
“One child had never been exposed to vaccine, but the other had taken vaccine just once,” he said, suggesting that for lack of follow-up, the vaccine could have mutated into the virus.
“In some places the parents don’t know much about health matters and aren’t very interested in vaccination programs,” he said. The mass oral vaccination program will start in December, officials said.
U Than Tun Aung, director (epidemiology) of the Public Health Department, said the aim of the program was to stop the virus spreading from Maungdaw township.
“The two children in Maungdaw are under five years old. They are not suffering from the wild polio virus, but from vaccine-derived virus, which can develop where vaccine coverage is lacking,” he said.
He added that the wild polio virus, which is more intense than the vaccine-derived virus, was cleared from Myanmar in March 2014.
“Vaccine-derived polio virus can infect other people, so we are trying to implement a mass polio immunisation program for all under-fives in the township,” he said.
U Thaung Hlaing said language and cultural barriers may have prevented earlier campaigns from being completely effective in northern Rakhine State.
The area is home to hundreds of thousands of Muslims, many of whom lack formal identification documents and distrust state authorities, whom they accuse of persecution.
“Some people refused to be injected,” he said. “We will be asking for the cooperation of local communities, INGOs and NGOs to cover the whole area.”