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WHO, UNICEF declare end of polio outbreak in Philippines

The World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF on Friday declared the end of the polio outbreak in the Philippines after the disease reemerged in the country in 2019.

The two international bodies said the Philippine Department of Health (DOH) officially concluded its polio outbreak response on June 3 this year.

“The decision came as the virus has not been detected in a child or in 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.

In September 2019, the Philippines reported the reemergence of polio after 19 years of being free from the disease. 

The DOH has since worked with WHO and UNICEF to scale up the government’s polio vaccination campaign.

Earlier this year, the DOH said 72.9% or more than 3.4 million kids were vaccinated against polio in a campaign that was launched in February.

“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 sustain the gains made against polio, WHO recommended that the DOH give high priority to quality poliovirus surveillance, develop quarterly surveillance desk reviews, and protect workers involved in vaccination efforts. 

‘Victory not permanent’

In an interview on Super Radyo dzBB, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said there is still a possibility of another polio resurgence if heightened surveillance is not maintained.

“Itong tagumpay natin na ito, hindi ito permanente. Dedepende pa rin ito sa mga pamahalaang lokal na paigtingin kasama ang DOH yung surveillance,” he said.

(This victory of ours is not permanent. It still depends on local governments and the DOH to strengthen surveillance efforts.)

Duque also called on parents to get their children inoculated against diseases like polio, stressing that vaccines have been tried and tested to be safe and effective.

The WHO said polio is a highly infectious viral disease that mostly affects children younger than the age of 5. The virus is transmitted from person to person mainly through the faecal-oral route or contaminated water or food.— Julia Mari Ornedo/KBK/RSJ, GMA News