On Friday, the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF declared the end of the polio outbreak in the Philippines.
The Philippine Department of Health (DOH) officially ended the polio outbreak on June 3, the two organizations said.
“The decision came as the virus has not been detected in a child or the environment in the past 16 months and is a result of comprehensive outbreak response actions including intensified immunization and surveillance activities in affected areas of the country,” WHO and UNICEF said in a joint statement.
The Philippines has been polio-free for 19 years until DOH confirmed on September 14, 2019, that a 3-year-old girl had the disease.
WHO and UNICEF pointed out that the poliovirus resurfaced due to persistently low routine immunization coverage.
The drop in polio immunization was traced back to the Dengvaxia vaccine scare in 2017. The government approved the school-based dengue vaccination in 2015. Today, there are 145 deaths (142 children and three adults) allegedly caused by Dengvaxia.
But earlier this year, the DOH said 72.9% or more than 3.4 million children were vaccinated against polio in a campaign launched in February.
Polio outbreak in Philippines ends – WHO, UNICEF
“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,” WHO Philippine Representative Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe said.
“We must keep the momentum and accelerate routine immunization and safeguard essential child health services while rolling out COVID-19 vaccines for priority groups,” UNICEF Philippines Representative Oyunsaikhan Dendevnorov added.
To prevent another polio outbreak, WHO recommended that the DOH prioritize quality poliovirus surveillance, develop quarterly surveillance desk reviews, and protect workers involved in vaccination efforts.
According to UNICEF and WHO, poliovirus type 2 would likely spread rapidly due to the “low level of population immunity” against the virus. The organizations also consider polio outbreaks as a public health emergency.
Poliovirus is a highly contagious disease that can affect the nervous system.
Polio symptoms include fever, fatigue, headache, vomiting, stiff neck, and sudden floppy arms or legs. It can lead to permanent paralysis or, worse, death.