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WHO, UNICEF laud end of polio outbreak in the Philippines

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11 June 2021 — WHO and UNICEF Philippines on behalf of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) commend the Department of Health (DOH), government agencies, partners and civil society efforts that have ended the polio outbreak in the Philippines. The DOH officially concluded the polio outbreak response on 3 June 2021. 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.

The DOH announced a polio outbreak in the Philippines on 19 September 2019, after 19 years of being polio-free. Since then, the government, together WHO, UNICEF and partners scaled nationwide polio campaigns to stop the spread of the virus. Despite the tremendous challenges to immunization presented by the simultaneous impact of COVID-19, the DOH continued robust polio immunization campaigns. In particular, UNICEF and WHO commend the DOH for enhancing training and mobilizing health workers in infection prevention and control, and supplying them with personal protective equipment to be able to vaccinate children in their homes and in designated health centers - a global first in a country experiencing community transmission of COVID-19.

WHO supported the country’s polio outbreak response by providing both technical and operations support on intensifying polio surveillance, planning, preparing for and monitoring of immunization campaigns, infection prevention and control measures and risk communication. WHO also deployed international and national polio experts who provided on-the-ground technical support to the regions and local implementers.

“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. The closure of the polio outbreak is a direct result of strong political will and government leadership, the mobilization and engagement of resources and communities, the courage and commitment of healthcare and front-line workers, and the combined, coordinated efforts of the local governments and partners,” said Dr Rabindra Abeyasinghe, WHO Representative to the Philippines. “We look forward for these efforts to be sustained for a strong and resilient immunization system, utilizing the investments made for polio outbreak response and COVID-19 vaccination to ensure all children are protected from vaccine preventable diseases as the Philippines moves towards achieving Universal Health Care,” Dr Abeyasinghe added.

UNICEF supported the Department of Health through vaccine procurement and delivery, development of immunization guidelines, social mobilization, engaging community members and influencers, and building the capacity of DOH and LGU staff nationwide to plan and ensure that no child was missed.

“The success of the polio immunization in the Philippines is proof that when we come together for children, great things happen. UNICEF celebrates all the vaccine champions and partners who made this possible. 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 says.

Aside from WHO and UNICEF, other core partners of the GPEI – Rotary International, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance – also supported the Philippine polio outbreak response.

WHO has outlined recommendations to the DOH to ensure systems are in place to protect the gains from the polio outbreak response. These include giving high priority to quality poliovirus surveillance; developing quarterly surveillance desk reviews between DOH and WHO; protecting human resources involved in immunization; regular reporting to WHO on human resource deployment, vaccine procurement and surveillance performance; developing best practices manual for field level users; and updating material inventories.

About polio

Polio is a highly infectious, crippling and sometimes fatal disease that can be avoided with a vaccine. Children under the age of five are particularly vulnerable. The disease remains endemic in only two countries – Afghanistan and Pakistan – and when it is eradicated there, polio will be only the second disease ever to be completely eradicated.

Media contacts

Jun Ryan Orbina
Communications Officer for the Expanded Programme on Immunization
WHO Philippines
Tel: +63 906 438 6312

Niko Wieland
Chief of Communication
UNICEF Philippines
Tel: +63 917 867 8366

Marge Francia
Communication Officer
UNICEF Philippines
Tel: +63 917 858 9447