By Miguel Angelo Magbag
The polio outbreak in the Philippines that began in September 2019 has been stamped out, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) said Friday.
Polio was declared eradicated on June 3 because it has not been detected in a child or in the environment in the past six months, the two agencies said.
Despite the challenges of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Philippines was able to manage and stop polio with information drives, prevention, and training, they 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,” said Rabindra Abeyasinghe, the WHO representative in the Philippines.
Oyunsaikhan Dendevnorov, the country representative for Unicef, said the agency “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,” she said.
After two decades of being polio-free, the Philippines confirmed 17 cases of the viral disease, but none of these cases led to death.
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.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque cautioned that polio could return if heightened surveillance is not maintained.
“This victory of ours is not permanent. It still depends on local governments and the DOH to strengthen surveillance efforts,” he said in Filipino in an interview with radio dzBB.
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.