The poliovirus transmission in Lao People’s Democratic Republic has ceased

An Outbreak Response Assessment (OBRA) team from the World Health Organization (WHO), United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) and United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (U.S. CDC) met the officials from the Ministry of Health and indicated that improvements in Acute Flaccid Paralysis (AFP) surveillance quality make it unlikely that ongoing circulating Vaccine Derived poliovirus type 1 (cVDPV1) transmission was missed. This allowed them to reasonably conclude that the cVPDV1 transmission in Lao People’s Democratic Republic has ceased. The virus has not been detected in Lao PDR since 11 January 2016.

The Deputy Health Minister Dr. Phouthone Muangpak chaired the 4th OBRA review meeting together with WHO Representative, Dr. Juliet Fleischl and UNICEF Representative Ms. Hongwei Gao. The three previous OBRA assessments were conducted in January, May and August 2016.

Speaking at the event, Dr. Muangpak thanked WHO, UNICEF and partners for their support in implementing ten rounds of supplementary immunization activities (SIAs), expanded social mobilization and enhanced AFP surveillance activities to strengthen prevention, detection and response capacity of health workers. The Ministry of Health and local authorities need to take ownership to improve surveillance sensitivity in the country.”

Ms. Gao said “We have an urgent task to strengthen routine immunization by increasing coverage of the inactivated polio vaccine (IPV); we need to focus on outreach services that reach 70 percent of population so that children are protected from any new polio outbreak.”

Overall, there are improvements in all areas of the polio response activities, with higher coverage results for campaigns in the November and January rounds showing over 95% children reached across the country. However, the future of polio control in the country relies on the delivery of oral polio vaccine and IPV through routine immunization services.

Dr. Fleischl said “The IPV has achieved very low coverage, so it is highly recommended that the focus for 2017 shifts back to ensure higher coverage of routine vaccines. Another important area is the need to sustain the gains that were achieved in strengthening the Vaccine Preventable Diseases surveillance, mostly focusing on the AFP surveillance. A well-functioning surveillance system is critical to rapidly detect newly emerging VDPV or wild poliovirus (WPV) importations.”

The development partners commended the Ministry of Health on its leadership in response to the outbreak. Tremendous progress was made in microplanning, cold chain and vaccine storage at all levels, as well as nationwide social mobilization and strengthening of AFP surveillance.

OBRA team member from WHO, UNICEF and USCDC reviewing the immunization and surveillance records at KM52 health centre in Vientiane Province