Health authorities announced the end of the polio outbreak in the Philippines— two years after the crippling disease was once again detected in the country.
The announcement was made by both the World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) on Friday, June 11.
“The DOH (Department of Health) 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 two international organizations said in a joint statement.
The DOH announced a polio outbreak in the country last Sept. 19, 2019, after 19 years of being polio-free. There were 17 polio cases that were detected.
“Today is a very happy occasion. We are formally celebrating the end of the polio outbreak that has affected the Philippines for more than 600 days,” said WHO Country Representative to the Philippines Dr. Radindra Abeyasinghe in a press briefing.
“This is a testament of the tremendous work that has been undertaken to close this polio outbreak, while also responding to the COVID-19 pandemic,” he added.
Abeyasinghe lauded the Philippine government’s response against the polio outbreak.
“The Philippines has emerged as an inspiration to the world that with leaders, caring for children, determination, strong leadership, and a focus on a shared goal solving seemingly insurmountable challenges, can turn into a remarkable achievement,” he said.
“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,” he said.
Abeyasinghe also emphasized the importance of vaccines.
“This proves to us that indeed vaccines work by vaccination coverage in vaccination rounds— effectively stop the polio virus from circulating,” he said.
The WHO official expressed hopes that the polio vaccination campaign will still continue even if the outbreak is now over.
“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,” he said.
DOH Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire assured that the Philippines will continue to ramp up its polio vaccination program.
“This is also a testament that effectively responding to public health issues is a responsibility shared by everybody. However, this achievement does not give us license to be complacent,” she said.
“Every unvaccinated child remains at risk of contracting this disease. 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. With the high level of fully immunized children, we can ensure maximum protection for our youth and secure brighter future for generations to come,” she added.
UNICEF Philippines Representative Oyunsaikhan Dendevnorov said that “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,” said Dendevnorov.