Risk of importation of poliovirus still persists: WHO official

Kolkata: Polio transmission may be at its lowest-ever levels globally, but a top WHO official warns that the risk of importation of the virus into all polio-free areas still persists.

On January 13, WHO South-East Asia Region completed five years without any case of wild poliovirus.

“Globally, polio transmission is at its lowest ever levels. However, the risk of importation of the poliovirus into all polio-free areas persists,” says Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director for WHO South-East Asia.

She termed as a remarkable achievement the fact that no case of wild poliovirus has been reported in the past five years particularly in view of the continued threat of poliovirus importation from the remaining polio-endemic countries.

The WHO South-East Asia Region reported its last case of wild poliovirus in West Bengal in 2011, which facilitated polio-free certification of the region on March 27, 2014.

“Countries in the region have been making commendable efforts, stepping up vigilance against polio and continuing to protect children against the crippling virus.

“Completing half-a-decade without any case of wild poliovirus is yet another achievement and a reminder that we need to continue our efforts until the disease is eradicated globally. We need to ensure that our efforts and investment over the years to eradicate polio do not go waste,” Singh said.

Talking about the steps taken by the countries in the region for the WHO’s Polio End Game strategy, she said, “As part of the Polio End Game strategy, countries in the region are accelerating introduction of one dose of injectable inactivated polio vaccine in childhood immunisation schedules, along with plans for a globally synchronised, phased and sequential withdrawal of oral polio vaccines from the programme.

“These strategies are aimed at addressing all polio – including the rare cases of vaccine derived polio.

“Our efforts to stop polio and now to keep the Region polio-free, have been possible due to numerous innovative strategies that helped strengthen immunisation and disease surveillance and promote community ownership.”

While these lessons learnt are now being adopted by the remaining endemic areas, Singh stressed that countries in the region need to replicate these strategies and optimally use the polio programme resources for other public health goals, particularly in the areas of immunisation, surveillance and emergency response.

“A polio-free world is in sight. We must continue to make efforts to rid the world of the crippling disease,” Singh stressed.