Region maintains polio-free status, expert panel concludes

WHO

RCC members: (top, from left) Professor Tapani Hovi, Dr Anton van Loon, Dr Rudolf Tangermann, (bottom, from left) Ms Ellyn Ogden, Professor David Salisbury (Chair), Dr Donato Greco

The WHO European Region has retained its poliomyelitis (polio)-free status, as assessed by the European Regional Commission for the Certification of Poliomyelitis Eradication (RCC) at its 33rd annual meeting, held on 28–29 May 2019 in Copenhagen, Denmark. The RCC concluded that there was no poliovirus transmission in the WHO European Region in 2018 and that any importation or circulation of a poliovirus would have been detected promptly by existing health/surveillance systems.

The RCC further acknowledged improvements and significant efforts taken by some countries to reduce the risk that a poliovirus could circulate if imported into the Region. Nevertheless, 4 countries, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Romania, Ukraine, and provisionally Poland, were considered to be of concern due to lack of sufficient population immunity, outbreak preparedness plans and/or sensitivity of surveillance.

Professor David Salisbury, Chair of both the Global Certification Commission and the European RCC, congratulated all countries for the timely submission of their annual progress reports (APRs) along with the provision of convincing evidence that the European Region is polio-free. Professor Salisbury stressed that countries of the Region must maintain their population immunity through high vaccination coverage; the sensitivity of their surveillance to detect polioviruses; and their preparedness to respond while threats remain from outside the Region.

Innovations helping to keep the Region and the world polio free

This year marked the first time that all 53 Member States in the European Region submitted APRs in electronic format. The RCC commended WHO/Europe for its leadership in developing and introducing the online APR platform, which will significantly improve the system and quality of data analysis. The Global Certification Commission has also recommended that the platform be adapted and rolled out globally.

The RCC also acknowledged WHO/Europe’s leadership in assessing the risk of poliovirus importation and spread. The assessments consider a range of evidence and indicators, including: routine immunization coverage, supplementary immunization activities, cross-border movements, outbreak response capacities and planning, surveillance sensitivity and approaches, progress towards poliovirus containment, quality and timeliness of reporting, impact of health system reforms, communication activities, response to outbreaks of other diseases and independence of national certification committees. WHO/Europe continues to support countries in improving preparedness by developing and conducting polio outbreak simulation exercises (POSE). The POSE model and lessons learned have been shared with other WHO regions, thereby contributing to global preparedness and response activities.

The full conclusions and recommendations of the RCC’s 33rd meeting will be available in a forthcoming meeting report.