Polio at Mecca sparks fear for Muslims thousands - World - News - The Independent

Polio at Mecca sparks fear for Muslims thousands

AN OUTBREAK of polio that reached Mecca in Saudi Arabia just as two and half million Muslims converged on the holy city last month for the haj has sparked fears that returning pilgrims could spread the disease around the world.

World Health Organisation officials said yesterday they were stepping up surveillance and vaccinations from west Africa to east Asia in response.

Dr Bruce Aylward, who is leading the WHO's polio eradication programme, and has monitored the outbreak from its source in Nigeria in 2003, said the next month would be critical.

"If it gets into an area of low coverage then boom! We have an outbreak," he told The Independent from Geneva.

Saudi authorities have reported three cases of the crippling and sometimes fatal disease including one this week of a boy from Nigeria who has been living in a camp near Mecca. The kingdom had been polio-free since 1995 but a case emerged late last year after doctors became concerned over a Sudanese girl who became paralysed in the port city of Jeddah. Saudi officials said they had vaccinated nearly one million people in a bid to contain the risk before pilgrims arrived.

The haj, an annual pilgrimage to Mecca, is a duty of all able-bodied Muslims at least once in a lifetime. During the pilgrimage hundreds of thousands live for days in a tent city near Mecca with little or no sanitation. These conditions are ripe for transmission of the virus.

Nigeria is among the six countries that have never halted polio and Dr Aylward said the current outbreak can be traced back to a vaccine boycott led by Muslim clerics in the northern province of Kano. Local imams spread rumours that the medicine was part of a US-led plot and would make women sterile, spread Aids among men and that it might contain pork products. Scores of polio infections resulted and the virus moved through Chad and Sudan, before reaching the coast at Port Sudan. Doctors suspect that it crossed the Red Sea to Jeddah.

"Saudi Arabia would have been a dead end [for the virus] under normal circumstances but for the haj," said Dr Aylward.

WHO monitors now face a tense wait to see if populous Muslim countries with pockets of low-vaccine coverage such as Indonesia and Bangladesh will throw up new cases.

The outbreak underlined the importance of global efforts to eradicate the disease by the end of the year, a project that will take a step forward this month with the launch of a vaccination programme covering 20 countries and 80 million children.

The number of new polio cases rose 50 per cent worldwide last year to 1,200 with 782 of those in Nigeria.

Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape
music
News
Paper trail: the wedding photograph found in the rubble after 9/11 – it took Elizabeth Keefe 13 years to find the people in it
newsWho are the people in this photo? It took Elizabeth Stringer Keefe 13 years to find out
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
filmMatt Damon in talks to return
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Evil eye: Douglas Adams in 'mad genius' pose
booksNew biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Sport
FootballFull debuts don't come much more stylish than those on show here
Arts and Entertainment
Fringe show: 'Cilla', with Sheridan Smith in the title role and Aneurin Barnard as her future husband Bobby Willis
tvEllen E Jones on ITV's 'Cilla'
News
i100
Sport
Tim Wiese
sport
Life and Style
Kim Kardashian drawn backlash over her sexy swimsuit selfie, called 'disgusting' and 'nasty'
fashionCritics say magazine only pays attention to fashion trends among rich, white women
Arts and Entertainment
TVShows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Arts and Entertainment
Hit the roof: hot-tub cinema east London
architectureFrom pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
Travel
travel
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Project Manager with some Agile experience

£45000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsf...

Data/ MI Analyst

£25000 - £30000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client are cur...

Project Manager (retail, upgrades, rollouts)

£40000 - £45000 Per Annum + benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Project...

Project Manager (upgrades, rollouts, migrations)

£350 - £425 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Project Manager - 3 mont...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week