Polio kicked out of Europe: European Region to retain polio-free status, but constant vigilance is needed

Copenhagen, 25 August 2011

The European Regional Certification Commission for Poliomyelitis Eradication (RCC) announced yesterday that Europe will retain its polio-free status after the importation of wild poliovirus type 1 in 2010. At their 25th meeting in Copenhagen, Denmark this week, the RCC noted that wild poliovirus transmission has been interrupted. No new cases have been reported since September 2010 because countries have taken effective action.

Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe, commented, “The RCC decision is tremendous news for the Region and a credit to all the Member States and partners that individually, collectively and promptly combated the first and largest outbreak of poliomyelitis the Region has seen since it was declared polio free in 2002. I am also very pleased that the hard work and personal commitments of the presidents, prime ministers and health ministers have produced this success, which shows the importance and value of political commitment and joint action. The WHO Regional Office for Europe will continue to work with Member States so that Europe remains vigilant and the polio-free status of the Region is sustained”.

In 2010, four countries, Kazakhstan, the Russian Federation, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, reported 475 laboratory-confirmed cases of wild poliovirus type 1, with 30 deaths. At this week’s meeting, all 53 countries in the WHO European Region, including those in which wild poliovirus circulated in 2010, provided evidence to help the RCC make an independent expert assessment of the sustainability of the polio-free status of the Region. The RCC reviewed this evidence to determine whether the European Region would keep its status as polio free. David Salisbury, Chairperson of the RCC, commended the response by Member States, especially their efforts to protect their populations and stop the transmission of the poliovirus. This was done through synchronized additional immunization activities, often involving nationwide vaccination campaigns.

The RCC recognized that Member States had satisfactorily adopted the recommendations made at their 24th meeting on 26–27 January 2011 in St Petersburg, Russian Federation. The RCC concluded that countries had provided sufficient evidence addressing immunization coverage and on the sensitivity of their polio surveillance systems, including establishing sustainable transport of specimens. There was therefore no need to recertify all 53 Member States of the WHO European Region or any subregion.

The RCC also acknowledged the contribution and technical support of the WHO Regional Office for Europe, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative partners and the Russian Federation, India and the United States Agency for International Development.

Bruce Aylward, WHO Assistant Director-General for Polio, Emergencies and Country Collaboration, commented: “The RCC’s assessment is extremely important. At the same time, we are seeing critical progress in India, the source of last year’s importations into the European Region, and where we have not seen a case in more than six months. Taken together, these two developments constitute strong evidence that polio eradication can be achieved rapidly, with sufficient financing and political will.”

Globally, the effort to eradicate polio continues to face a critical funding gap of US$ 590 million through the end of 2012.

The Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) is spearheaded by WHO, Rotary International, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and UNICEF. Since 1988 (the year the GPEI was launched), the incidence of polio has been reduced by more than 99%. At the time, more than 350 000 children were paralysed every year in more than 125 endemic countries. So far in 2011, 325 cases have been reported worldwide (as of 16 August 2011). Only four countries remain endemic: Afghanistan, India, Nigeria and Pakistan.

For further information, contact:

Rebecca Martin
Team Leader, Communicable Diseases
Tel.: +45 3917 1216
E-mail: rma@euro.who.int

Robb Butler
Technical Officer, Communicable Diseases
Tel.: +45 3917 1552
E-mail: rbu@euro.who.int

Faith Vorting
Communications Officer
WHO Regional Office for Europe
Tel.: +45 3917 1219
E-mail: fki@euro.who.int