NEW DELHI: The World Health Organisation (WHO) South-East Asia Region sustained its polio-free status despite disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic but needs to scale-up measures in view of the persisting and increased risks of polio globally.
Though the region has not reported any case, the world health body said that the risks persist due to the continued circulation of the wild poliovirus type 1 in endemic countries bordering the region.
“Countries have been making efforts, but gaps persist, especially at the sub-national level. We need to scale up surveillance and immunization coverage and update our polio outbreak response capacities to respond rapidly and timely in the event of a polio outbreak,” said Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director WHO SEARO as the South-East Asia Regional Certification Commission for Polio Eradication met here to review the situation in the Region.
Globally polio remains a public health emergency of international concern, she added.
Earlier this month, New York declared a state of emergency following the detection of poliovirus in wastewater samples. In recent months cases of wild poliovirus type 1 have been reported in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Malawi and Mozambique.
In June, the thirty-second Polio International Health Regulations (IHR) Emergency Committee assessed the risk of international spread of cVDPV2 or circulating vaccine derived poliovirus type 2, as high, in view of Covid-19 outbreak impacting routine immunizations services in many countries. cVDPVs are a risk in areas with low immunization coverage.
“Today, coverage in the Region of the bivalent oral polio vaccine and inactivated polio vaccine has for the most part stabilized or improved since 2020; however, the trajectory in several countries continues to be cause for concern,” Dr Khetrapal Singh said.
Though the Region was able to maintain global surveillance standards throughout the Covid-19 response, there are variations at national and sub-national levels that need to be addressed, she said.
Emphasizing on sustaining adequate resources amid immense fiscal stress, she said, enabling polio networks in the Region to strengthen immunization systems and carry out other public health functions will help polio-priority countries maintain core capacities and infrastructure until global polio eradication is achieved.
“The last year two and a half years - almost three - have not been easy, but the Region’s continued polio-free status is a testament to the dedication and commitment of polio programme workforce, many of whom have significantly contributed to the Covid-19 response, and the steadfast resolve of donors and partners,” the Regional Director said.