A case of polio reached Mecca in Saudi Arabia, Islam’s holy city, just
before two million Muslims made the annual pilgrimage there last month, and
World Health Organization officials now say the disease could spread to
other countries, carried by returning pilgrims.

In crowded nations with spotty vaccination coverage like Bangladesh and
Indonesia, “there could be substantial consequences,” Dr. Bruce Aylward,
coordinator of the health organization’s Global Polio Eradication
Initiative, said in an interview from Geneva.

“This is a crucial point,” he added. “We’re staring at the whites of the
eyes of this thing.”

A spokesman at the Saudi Embassy in Washington said his country had feared
the arrival of polio this year and started vaccinating 800,000 people in
September, hoping to head it off before the height of the hajj, or
pilgrimage, in late January

 

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