Malaysia works with UN, Philippines to combat polio

Malaysia works with UN, Philippines to combat polio
Malaysia works with UN, Philippines to combat polio

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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - KUALA LUMPUR: In a bid to curb the spread of the polio virus in the country, Malaysia announced on Monday that authorities were working round the clock in cooperation with international organizations and the Philippines to intensify a health campaign.

“The Malaysian Ministry of Health (MOH) is also working closely with the World Health Organization (WHO) to get updates on the polio situation globally,” Dr. Noor Hisham bin Abdullah, director general of Malaysia’s Ministry of Health, said in his official blog on Monday.

He added that a “joint venture with the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is being refined” for low-cost vaccines, specifically for non-citizen immunization programs in Sabah. 

Malaysia has been scrambling to deal with the re-emergence of the virus ever since it was detected in a three-month-old infant from Tuaran, Sabah, on Dec. 8, almost 27 years after it was completely eradicated from the country.

The infant is stable and is currently being treated at the isolation ward of a hospital, the ministry said.

The cause for the spread of polio is yet to be determined, but several are pointing fingers at the Philippines for the outbreak.

“The MOH will also strengthen bilateral cooperation with the Philippines, including immunization programs for children of nationals in Sabah,” Bin Abdullah said.

Sabah is a major tourist area in Malaysia, attracting close to 3.5 million tourists each year.

When contacted by Arab News on Monday, officials from the Malaysian Tourism Ministry were unavailable for comment.

The Sabah state government has already taken several critical measures to prevent the spread of the virus, including intensifying immunization activities for children in Sabah.

“To help prevent the spread, additional immunization activities will be provided to all children under the age of five in Sabah,” Bin Abdullah said.

Thus far, 59 children aged between two months and 15 years — including undocumented and non-citizens — have been vaccinated.

Additionally, the Malaysian authorities have increased awareness measures through media advocacy and health education to the public, as well as monitoring the health facilities in high-risk areas.

“Detection activity on Acute Flaccid Paralysis (AFP) cases that are showing symptoms of poliomyelitis in the areas around the case is being expanded to nearby and at-risk areas,” Bin Abdullah added.

“A total of 1,553 people were examined, and none of the AFP symptoms were detected.”

With push backs from so-called “anti-vaxxers” who dispute the effectiveness of vaccination, and calls from civil societies for mandatory vaccination, authorities are also urging parents to vaccinate their children immediately.

“The MOH wants to emphasize that the best way to prevent polio is through immunization. Infectious diseases such as polio do not recognize boundaries,” Bin Abdullah said.

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