Simulation exercise prepares countries for potential polio outbreak

WHO/Sergei Deshevoi

Mock interviews were conducted as part of the simulation exercise to prepare participants to inform the public and answer media inquiries in the event of an actual outbreak.

With poliovirus circulating perilously close by in Ukraine, polio control professionals from Czech Republic, Hungary, Republic of Moldova, Romania and Slovakia last week participated in a polio outbreak simulation exercise. The exercise was organized by WHO/Europe in Bucharest, Romania and co-facilitated by Public Health England.

Polio outbreak simulation exercise (POSE)

A polio outbreak simulation exercise (POSE) is a two-day tabletop exercise designed to help Member States critically review and update their national plans for responding to the detection of imported wild polioviruses (WPV) and vaccine-derived polioviruses (VDPV). The response plan includes the use of the International Health Regulations (IHR) mechanism. The exercise addresses communication, coordination and collaboration at an international and national level and exposes any weaknesses in polio preparedness and response arrangements.

The exercise in Romania during 7-8 October was planned to increase the level of preparedness in the participating Member States for potential importation of WPV or VDPV. Surveillance, immunization and communications professionals as well as IHR experts participated in the simulation. Among other assignments, mock interviews were conducted to prepare participants for informing the public and answering media inquiries in the event of an outbreak.

Though planned well in advance, it came at an opportune time following a regional risk assessment conducted by WHO after the Ukrainian Ministry of Health announced on 1 September 2015 the detection of 2 polio cases. The assessment had pointed to a heightened risk of importation.

Vigilence needed to retain Region's polio-free status

WHO/Europe supports Member States in their ongoing efforts to maintain the Region's polio-free status and contributes to coordinated efforts to eradicate the disease worldwide in accordance with the Polio Eradication and Endgame Strategic Plan.

POSE has been previously implemented and positively received by Member States, including subregional exercises in Bosnia and Herzegovina (2011) and Ukraine (2013), and a national exercise in the United Kingdom (2013).

In addition to implementing this exercise, all Member States bordering Ukraine have been encouraged to strengthen surveillance for the disease and review immunity gaps in their populations, particularly in areas located close to the border.

WHO/Europe will continue to provide urgent support to Ukraine to quickly stop the polio outbreak, and to other Member States in the European Region to prevent the international spread of the disease.