| GEO Health|
| Tajikistan hit by deadly polio outbreak: WHO|
| Updated at: 0955 PST, Saturday, April 24, 2010|
GENEVA: The World Health Organisation said Friday that it was investigating a confirmed polio outbreak in Tajikistan which has killed 10 children and marked renewed spread of the disease in central Asia.
A team of WHO experts was sent to the country after local authorities alerted the UN health agency about cases of acute flaccid paralysis detected early this month in southwestern Tajikistan, in an area bordering Afghanistan and Uzbekistan.
"Laboratory tests by the WHO Collaborating Centre in Moscow confirmed polio virus as the cause of the outbreak," the WHO said in a statement.
"WHO immediately alerted all other countries of this new public health risk in Eastern Central Asia, as required under the International Health Regulations."
By April 22, 128 cases of paralysis were reported and 10 of the infected children had died, the agency added.
Tajikistan's last case of clinically confirmed polio occurred in 1997.
But the disease is still present in neighbouring Afghanistan, which is one of the four remaining polio endemic countries in the world along with Pakistan, India and Nigeria.
Polio has spread again in recent years with imported cases, especially in Africa, in a setback to global attempts to eradicate the crippling and lethal disease.
WHO said three nationwide vaccination campaigns will be launched shortly in Tajikistan to halt the outbreak.
It also urged nearby Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan to step up polio surveillance and rapidly conduct immunisation campaigns.
The WHO said vaccination coverage in Tajikistan was last estimated at about 87 percent in 2008.
Some 7.6 million children were being immunised last year in Afghanistan, where 38 cases of polio were confirmed in 2009 and another eight so far this year, according to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.