(Infographic courtesy of DOH)

MANILA – The Department of Health (DOH) and the World Health Organization (WHO) on Friday declared that the polio outbreak in the Philippines has officially ended.

In a virtual briefing, DOH Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said as of March 31 this year, 87.3 percent of the target population has been covered by the country’s polio supplemental immunization campaign.

“This level of coverage is an outstanding accomplishment for the country in combatting polio. And this was duly recognized by the WHO,” Vergeire said.

She said the WHO conveyed the recognition in a June 3 letter to the DOH.
“The fact that we were able to do this amidst the Covid-19 pandemic means that we can no longer have any excuse to address the outstanding gaps in our national vaccination programs. Every unvaccinated child remains at risk of contracting this disease,” Vergeire said.

She emphasized that the country’s vaccination efforts against polio will continue and aims to “reach every child and thoroughly minimize the risk of another outbreak.”

In September 2019, she said a polio outbreak was declared in the Philippines after initial cases were reported and found that there was a transmission of the two types of Polioviruses in areas with low polio vaccine coverage.

“These Polioviruses were detected through the enhanced acute flaccid paralysis and environmental surveillance in the outbreak regions of the National Capital Region (NCR) and Mindanao,” Vergeire said.

In response, she said the DOH led a “unified response” through supplemental immunization campaigns but was paused when the Covid-19 pandemic struck the country.

When Covid-19 restrictions were eased, she said immunization services and additional health services resumed against the polio outbreak.

“The level of commitment of the implementers and vaccine uptake within communities enabled the DOH to further expand our polio response. We were able to cover the immunization gaps in the other regions brought about by the pandemic,” Vergeire said.

WHO Representative to the Philippines Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe, during the briefing, celebrated the accomplishment, noting that the polio outbreak affected the country “for more than 600 days.”

Despite the Philippines’ ending its outbreak, he said polio remains a “public health emergency of international concern.”

“The polio outbreak was overshadowed by another public health emergency of international concern, the Covid-19 pandemic. And we salute all of you who have made this possible during this extremely challenging period by your commitment and dedication to achieve the closure of this outbreak,” Abeyasinghe said. (PNA)