2010 polio outbreak in Tajikistan: A reminder of the continued need for vigilance as the Region marks 10 years of polio-free status

WHO/Tahmina Alimamedova

Jahongir Niyazmatov (right) contracted polio during the outbreak in 2010

On 21 June 2012, the WHO European Region celebrated 10 years of polio-free status. This landmark achievement reflects the Region's commitment and efforts to eradicate this disease, but it also highlights the importance of continuous efforts to prevent any future importation to the Region.

The first importation of wild poliovirus into the WHO European Region since its certification in 2002 was reported in Tajikistan in 2010. This outbreak spread rapidly and affected 35 of the country's 65 administrative territories, and also spread to three nearby countries.  

The Government of Tajikistan responded effectively when the cases were detected through close cooperation with WHO, USAID, UNICEF, Rotary International, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) and other partners. In responding to the outbreak, six nationwide immunization rounds and one subnational mop-up campaign were implemented in the country; as a result of these high-quality campaigns, the outbreak was stopped in Tajikistan. However, the outbreak caused more than 457 cases of polio in both children and adults, resulting in 29 deaths. 

Personal impact

The fight against polio was a huge task for every medical professional in the country, as well as for  partners who were involved in controlling the outbreak. It was also a significant challenge for the families of those affected by polio. 

One of these families, living in a rural and isolated part of Dushanbe city, spoke in June with staff from the WHO Country Office in Tajikistan about their experience. Jahongir Niyazmatov, who is now 10 years old and attending the 5th grade, contracted polio during the outbreak in 2010. 

"It was shocking news, when we heard the diagnosis that Jahongir had been affected by polio," his mother, Saodat Niyazmatova, recalled. 

Jahongir said, "I got sick on 4 May 2010. I did not know how serious it was and felt very upset when I realized that I had polio. I had treatment and have been on a rehabilitation course for several months. I would like to be totally cured." 

With her arm wrapped around her son, Saodat Niyazmatova, said, "I am happy that Jahongir has recovered from polio. Even though he was affected, I am sure I can raise and educate him to become an independent person. Jahongir's dream is to become a doctor." 

Looking forward

The joint efforts to stop the outbreak were multilateral and involved all sectors of society, including the Government, mass media, volunteers, health care workers, parents and civil society. Effective action by the country and the international community ensured that Tajikistan could respond adequately. Following the outbreak, further steps have also been taken to strengthen the health system in its fight to keep the country polio free. 

The outbreak was a stark reminder for individuals, as well as for governments, of the need for continued vigilance to guard against poliovirus reintroduction until the world is polio free.