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DOH questions PHL's 'polio-free' status

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III on Saturday questioned the World Health Organization's (WHO) statement that the Philippines remains polio-free despite several confirmed cases.

During the Rotary Club's commemorative polio eradication event, Duque said he believes that the eight vaccine-derived polio cases showed the virulence of a wild poliovirus outbreak.

"Why do you say that we are not, we haven't lost our polio-free status, because [the cases we have are] not the wild poliovirus, but at the same time, our behavior right now is as if it's the wild poliovirus?" Duque asked aloud to Rotary Club members and journalists.

"This vaccine-derived poliovirus [in the 8 confirmed cases] has begun to mutate, and has begun to re-assume the virulence of the wild poliovirus. It can cause poliomyelitis. The way I've communicated this is, let's consider, this, as really a polio outbreak," he added.

WHO country representative Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe had earlier said that the confirmed cases were vaccine-derived, and not due to wild poliovirus. There have been several outbreaks of vaccine-derived virus in the world recently, he added.

An outbreak, according to WHO, is defined as the occurrence of disease cases above normal expectancy.

Nevertheless, Duque assured that the Department of Health's polio immunization program is well on its way.

It administered another round of polio vaccines to kids from the National Capital Region (NCR) and all regions of Mindanao on Monday.

According to him, the DOH's current polio immunization programs were affected in the country because of the 2017 Dengvaxia vaccine scare and the "fragmentation" of the health system in the Philippines. —JCB/KBK, GMA News