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Tajikistan to start polio vaccination campaign to combat outbreak

DUSHANBE, Tajikistan (AP) — Health officials in Tajikistan will start a nationwide polio vaccination campaign Saturday in response to the first outbreak of the disease in the Central Asian country in over a decade.

Tajik deputy Health Minister Azam Mirzoyev said 32 cases of polio have been confirmed including one fatality, and the World Health Organization said it was testing more than 100 other suspected cases.

The polio cases were among 171 people who had acute flaccid paralysis since January in the southwest of Tajikistan, including the capital, Dushanbe, WHO spokeswoman Sona Bari said in Geneva.

UNICEF supplied 4 million doses of polio vaccine to Tajikistan earlier this week. WHO says the polio virus causing the outbreak is most closely related to the virus circulating in northern India. The last case of polio previously detected in Tajikistan was in 1997.

Last week, WHO sent a team to Tajikistan to investigate the outbreak.

WHO experts are trying to determine how the virus got from India to Tajikistan, Bari said.

"There's trade and travel between the two countries. As part of the investigation, we have people there looking at those travel routes and those trade relationships," she told The Associated Press.

Acute flaccid paralysis happens naturally in a population and has various causes, Bari said. "We test every case of acute flaccid paralysis. Not all of those cases are polio."

Tajikistan had an unusual high number of acute flaccid paralysis cases in April, Bari said. Neighboring countries have since strengthened their polio surveillance.

WHO has grouped Tajikistan into its European region and says this is the first outbreak of the paralytic disease in Europe since the agency certified the region as polio free in 2002.