World Polio Day marks a major milestone towards polio eradication
The independent Global Commission for the Certification of Poliomyelitis Eradication (GCC) has declared wild poliovirus type 3 to be globally eradicated. Announced today on World Polio Day, this is a major milestone in the global effort to rid the world of all poliovirus strains and ensure that no child will ever again be paralysed by any poliovirus anywhere.
“This achievement is another giant step towards freeing the world from the crippling disease. The WHO European Region has massively contributed to this since it was declared polio free in 2002,” says Dr Nedret Emiroglu, Director of Health Emergencies and Communicable Diseases, WHO/Europe. “However, despite progress, there is still much left to be done across the globe. Continued work to reach every last child with the polio vaccine, strengthening routine immunization and surveillance, and ensuring safe containment of polioviruses, will be key to keeping polio at bay and protecting the gains achieved.”
Wild poliovirus type 3 has not been detected anywhere in the world since 2012. Of the 3 serotypes of wild poliovirus, type 2 was declared eradicated in September 2015, with the last virus detected in India in 1999.
Status and preparedness in the European Region
The European Region’s polio-free status is reviewed every year by the independent European Regional Commission for the Certification of Poliomyelitis Eradication (RCC). In its 2019 meeting, the RCC declared that the Region had retained its polio-free status, but noted with concern suboptimal immunization coverage and/or suboptimal disease surveillance in some countries. In particular, the RCC considered 3 countries to be at high risk for the possible spread of poliovirus if the virus were to be imported or emerge (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Romania and Ukraine) and 22 countries to be at intermediate risk. WHO is working with these countries to identify and close immunization gaps and strengthen disease surveillance.
With global eradication approaching, an additional focus for the Region is on the safe containment or destruction of polioviruses currently held in research and vaccine manufacturing facilities. To ensure that no poliovirus will re-emerge after global eradication, Member States planning to retain poliovirus samples for vaccine manufacturing or critical research purposes in the future must apply for certification of a poliovirus essential facility (PEF), as well as establish a National Authority for Containment. As of 20 September 2019, 11 Member States in the European Region have expressed their intention to apply for certification of 1 or more PEFs.
Working beyond borders
Polioviruses know no borders and the work to prevent outbreaks cannot end there either. An outbreak of circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus type 2, detected in Syria in 2017, was declared over in December 2018. However, the country remains vulnerable to reinfection.
Through its office in Gaziantep, Turkey, WHO/Europe is helping to increase access to routine immunization in north-western Syria. Immunization services are provided by 127 teams, to a total estimated population of 4 million people. In 2019 so far, WHO has established 4 new routine immunization centres (bringing the total to 99). In addition, 2 supplementary polio immunization campaigns have targeted all children under 5 years old living in north-western Syria. Over 1.5 million doses of the polio vaccine were administered by over 3000 WHO-trained health workers. An additional campaign is scheduled for December 2019, aiming to reach over 800 000 children. Surveillance to detect any cases or outbreaks is in place and functioning well in north-western Syria.
About World Polio Day
World Polio Day on 24 October was established by Rotary International to commemorate the birth of Jonas Salk, who led the first team to develop a vaccine against poliomyelitis (polio). Every year, Rotary International, WHO and other partners in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative utilize World Polio Day to celebrate the individuals and organizations that have brought the world ever closer to polio eradication and to highlight the remaining challenges.