Simulation exercise increases polio-outbreak preparedness in Europe

A subregional polio-outbreak simulation exercise (POSE) held in Almaty, Kazakhstan, on 24-26 August 2016 allowed Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan to critically review their national plans for responding to the detection of wild polioviruses and vaccine-derived polioviruses in line with new standard operating procedures (SOP) of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI).

Until poliovirus is eradicated globally, every country must be well prepared to detect and quickly control a potential importation of wild poliovirus or emergence of circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus. This POSE was the fifth in a series of exercises organized by WHO/Europe to encourage countries to have updated and comprehensive plans in place. The exercise includes individual presentations and group work, followed by drafting or revision of national plans, which will be finalized in the coming weeks within each country and submitted to WHO/Europe for review.

“To control an outbreak and minimize its consequences, a country  needs a robust system that can define an outbreak, coordinate and advocate for a response, mobilize human resources, establish needed funding and logistics, and also reach the public through social mobilization and behaviour change communication,” says Dr Sergei Deshevoi, Technical Officer at WHO/Europe and organizer of the POSE workshops. “Basically every country is at risk and should be ready to initiate every component of an outbreak response.”

All these components are part of the POSE exercises, which aim to:

  • increase country preparedness for a possible outbreak;
  • improve understanding of the critical actions needed in responding to a polio outbreak in line with revised GPEI standard operating procedures;
  • develop/update a national action plan in each participating country.

Previous POSE workshops

Since the need for heightened preparedness was demonstrated by an outbreak of imported polio in Tajikistan in 2010, multi-country exercises have also been conducted in:

  • Bosnia and Herzegovina (2011) for representatives of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Serbia;
  • Ukraine (2013) for representatives of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Ukraine, an observer from the Russian Federation, as well as experts from European polio reference laboratories;
  • Romania (2015) for representatives of Czech Republic, Hungary, Republic of Moldova, Romania and Slovakia;
  • Kazakhstan (2015) for representatives of Kyrgyzstan, the Russian Federation (WHO European Region), China and Mongolia (WHO Western Pacific Region).

A national exercise was also conducted in the United Kingdom in 2013.

The exercises are also attended by observers from WHO headquarters, WHO country offices, UNICEF and other partner agencies.