WHO declares end of polio outbreak in PH

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 11)— The polio outbreak in the Philippines has ended, global health authorities announced on Friday, almost two years after the disease reemerged in the country.

In a joint statement, the World Health Organization and UNICEF confirmed that the country's outbreak response wrapped up on June 3 — as the agencies lauded the Philippine government's efforts to contain the infectious disease.

"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.

Polio reemerged in the Philippines in September 2019— 19 years after the country was cleared of the disease — when the Department of Health confirmed a single reported case of polio.

A single confirmed case in a polio-free nation automatically calls for a declaration of an outbreak, the DOH earlier explained.

"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," Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe, WHO Representative to the Philippines, said as he lauded the development.

'No complacency'

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said in a separate press briefing that the achievement "does not give us a license to be complacent."

"Every unvaccinated child remains at risk of contracting this disease," she added. "Hence, we must emphasize the value of getting vaccinated and continually ramp up our vaccination efforts, to reach every child and thoroughly minimize the risk of another outbreak."

Data from WHO showed around 30 million doses of oral polio vaccines have been administered in the country from 2019 to 2021. Around 11 million children got vaccinated, with many receiving multiple doses, according to the organization.

Screenshot from Department of Health

'Get vaccinated'

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III echoed the sentiment, saying the end of the polio outbreak does not mean the immunization drive and other preventive efforts will stop.

Duque also underscored the importance and efficacy of vaccines, and further encouraged Filipinos to get inoculated not just against polio, but other diseases too.

"We continue to encourage the public to get vaccinated, not just against polio, but against other diseases as well, including COVID-19," the Health chief said.

Health authorities said there is no cure for polio, which causes nerve injury leading to possible paralysis. A disease which can be fatal on rare occasions, polio can only be prevented through multiple doses of vaccines. The polio virus is typically transmitted through the fecal-oral route.