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Namibia confirms 7 dead in polio outbreak

Written by: Staff
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WINDHOEK, June 7 (Reuters) A suspected polio outbreak has killed seven people in Namibia since early May, spurring the southern African nation to launch a mass vaccination programme, officials yesterday said.

Senior Health Department officials said preliminary tests indicated the outbreak -- which mystified doctors for several weeks -- was polio.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) is engaged in a global campaign to wipe out the disease.

''Preliminary results indicate a Polio Virus 1 (PV1) Wild Type,'' Kalumbi Shangula, permanent secretary for the Ministry of Health and Social Services, told reporters.

Specimens collected from 11 patients were sent to South African laboratories for investigation last week, and Shangula said five of 11 specimens were identified as polio. Final confirmation was expected later this week.

Most cases were reported in the Katutura township outside Windhoek but the first case was reported at Aranos, about 395 km from the capital, in early May.

A total of 34 people have been admitted to hospital in the outbreak, with symptoms including back pain, headache, neck ache, fever, weakness, paralysis, diarrhoea, and vomiting.

The Ministry of Health said it would launch mass public education and vaccination campaigns, with polio immunisation already under way in the areas most affected.

Despite efforts by the WHO to eliminate the disease, polio remains a problem in several countries. Nigeria has seen its polio infection rate triple this year, while other countries including India, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Indonesia have also failed to stamp out the disease.

Namibia was considered polio-free in the early 1990s but saw an outbreak of 53 cases of the disease in 1993, spurring another immunisation drive. Its most recent case was reported in 1995.

REUTERS DKS KP0928

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