DOH, WHO declare PH polio outbreak over

Together with the World Health Organization (WHO), the the Department of Health (DOH) has declared that the polio outbreak in the Philippines is now ‘officially over.”

DOH Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said in a virtual briefing that as of March 31 this year, 87.3% of the country’s target population has been covered by their  polio supplemental immunization campaign.

“This level of coverage is an outstanding accomplishment for the country in combatting polio. And this was duly recognized by the WHO,” Vergeire said, adding the WHO has conveyed its recognition in a June 3 letter to the DOH.

“The fact that we were able to do this amidst the Covid-19 pandemic means we can no longer have any excuse to address the outstanding gaps in our national vaccination programs. Every unvaccinated child remains at risk of contracting this disease,” she stressed.

Vergeire emphasized that the country’s vaccination efforts against polio will continue and aims to “reach every child and thoroughly minimize the risk of another outbreak.”

In September 2019, she said a polio outbreak was declared in the Philippines after initial cases were reported and found that there was a transmission of the two types of Polioviruses in areas with low polio vaccine coverage.

“These Polioviruses were detected through the enhanced acute flaccid paralysis and environmental surveillance in the outbreak regions of the National Capital Region (NCR) and Mindanao,” Vergeire said.

In response, she said the DOH led a “unified response” through supplemental immunization campaigns but has paused when the Covid-19 pandemic struck the country, but when Covid-19 restrictions were eased, immunization and additional health services resumed against the polio outbreak.

“The level of commitment of the implementers and vaccine uptake within communities enabled the DOH to further expand our polio response. We were able to cover the immunization gaps in the other regions brought about by the pandemic,” Vergeire said.

During the briefing, Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe, WHO Representative to the Philippines, said accomplishment deserved cekebration, noting that the polio outbreak affected the country “for more than 600 days.”

Abeyasinghe, however, warned that despite the Philippines’ having ended the outbreak, polio remains a “public health emergency of international concern.”

“The polio outbreak was overshadowed by another public health emergency of international concern, the Covid-19 pandemic. And we salute all of you who have made this possible during this extremely challenging period by your commitment and dedication to achieve the closure of this outbreak,” the WHO official said.