WHO, UNICEF declare end of polio outbreak in PHL

(Eagle News) — The World Health Organization and UNICEF have officially declared an end to the polio outbreak in the Philippines.

In a joint statement, the two international bodies commended the Department of Health, partners and civil society for the “comprehensive outbreak response actions including intensified immunization and surveillance activities in affected areas of the country” that resulted in the virus not being detected in a child or in the environment in the past 16 months.

“Despite the tremendous challenges to immunization presented by the simultaneous impact of COVID-19, the DOH continued robust polio immunization campaigns,” the joint statement added.

In particular, UNICEF and WHO commended the DOH for enhancing training and mobilizing health workers in infection prevention and control, and supplying them with personal protective equipment to be able to vaccinate children in their homes and in designated health centers — a move which the two bodies described as a  “global first in a country experiencing community transmission of COVID-19.”

“This is a major win for public health and is an excellent example of what collective efforts can attain, even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The closure of the polio outbreak is a direct result of strong political will and government leadership, the mobilization and engagement of resources and communities, the courage and commitment of healthcare and front-line workers, and the combined, coordinated efforts of the local governments and partners,” Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe, WHO representative to the Philippines, said.

He expressed hope the efforts would be sustained “for a strong and resilient immunization system, utilizing the investments made for polio outbreak response and COVID-19 vaccination to ensure all children are protected from vaccine preventable diseases as the Philippines moves towards achieving Universal Health Care.”

For his part, UNICEF Philippines representative Oyunsaikhan Dendevnorov said the Philippine experience was proof that “when we come together for children, great things happen.”

“We must keep the momentum and accelerate routine immunization and safeguard essential child health services while rolling out COVID-19 vaccines for priority groups,” the official said.

The WHO has outlined recommendations to the DOH to ensure systems are in place to protect the gains from the polio outbreak response.

These include the following: giving high priority to quality poliovirus surveillance; developing quarterly surveillance desk reviews between DOH and WHO; protecting human resources involved in immunization; regular reporting to WHO on human resource deployment, vaccine procurement and surveillance performance; developing best practices manual for field level users; and updating material inventories.

The DOH announced a polio outbreak in the Philippines on September 19, 2019, after 19 years of being polio-free.

Polio is a highly infectious, crippling disease that can be fatal.

It can, however, be avoided with a vaccine.

Children under the age of five are particularly vulnerable.