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Polio Outbreak Response in Ethiopia

G. Mesfin, W. Schluter, A. GEBREMARIAM, D. Benti, T. Bedada, B. Beyene, A. Yigzaw, Z. Taddess, N. Mbakuliyemo, O. Babaniyi


Background: Ethiopia had been polio-free for almost four years until December 2004. However, between December 2004 and February 2006, 24 children were paralysed as a result of infection with wild poliovirus imported from the neighbouring country of Sudan. In response, the country has attempted to document the impact of various response measures on the containment of wild poliovirus transmission.
Objectives: This study aims at systematic and epidemiological assessment of the extent of the outbreak, its determinants, and the lessons learned as well as the implications for future control strategies to interrupt wild poliovirus transmission.
Design: A cross-sectional study design with qualitative and quantitative data collection approaches was used to conduct the epidemiologic assessment.
Subjects: All confirmed wild poliovirus cases, and reported acute flaccid paralysis cases in close proximity to the confirmed polio cases were the study subjects. Child caretakers and health service providers were interviewed as part of the investigation.
Results: Between December 2004 and February 2006, eight children from Tigray Regional State, nine children from Amhara Regional State and seven children from Oromia Regional State were paralysed as a result of infection with wild poliovirus type 1. Genetic sequencing demonstrated two separate importations to Ethiopia. Risk factors that may have facilitated spread of the outbreak within the country included gaps in vaccination coverage and interruption of the cold chain system, gaps in acute flaccid paralysis surveillance performance, high population mobility, poor environmental sanitation, crowded living conditions and unsafe drinking water. In response to the outbreak, Ethiopia conducted detailed outbreak investigations within two days of confirmation of the index cases. Large-scale, house-to-house vaccination campaigns were also implemented. As a result, the three regions interrupted the wild poliovirus transmission within the regions within
one year of confirmation of the index case.
Conclusion: Outbreak response activities were successful in interrupting the imported wild poliovirus transmission in Tigray, Amhara and Oromia Regional States of Ethiopia within a oneyear period of time. In Ethiopia, programme strategies should be intensified to contain further spread and prevent future importation of wild poliovirus. Large-scale immunisation campaigns should reach every child, including those isolated by geography, poverty and security.

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