Western Pacific now 10 years polio-free, but must remain vigilant—WHO

News release

MANILA, 29 October 2010—The World Health Organization's Western Pacific Region today celebrates its 10th year of being certified polio-free, but at the same time it is warning Member States not to drop their guard as wild poliovirus continues to circulate in other parts of the world.

"We cannot become complacent as global polio eradication is an unfinished story," said Dr Shin Young-soo, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific. "The virus travels and as long as there is polio anywhere in the world, any child who has not been fully vaccinated is vulnerable."

The virus has been persistent in Afghanistan, India, Pakistan and Nigeria, where wild poliovirus transmission has never been halted despite eradication efforts.

Dr Shin was addressing the Regional Commission for the Certification (RCC) of Poliomyelitis Eradication in the Western Pacific Region.

Members of the RCC are in Manila for an annual meeting with chairpersons of the National Certification Committees (NCCs) and partner agencies to discuss progress in polio programmes.

Warning of the potential risk of the importation of the virus into the Western Pacific Region, Dr Shin cited the experience in WHO's European Region, which was certified polio-free in 2002. This year, the virus travelled from a polio-endemic area to several countries in that region, which led to polio outbreaks in Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and the Russian Federation. Some 500 children have been paralyzed so far in those countries.

WHO said the polio outbreaks in Tajikstan, which shares a border with China, and in the Russian Federation, which shares borders with China and Mongolia, serve as a reminder that achieving and maintaining high levels of immunization coverage and good surveillance are vital if the Western Pacific Region is to stay polio-free.

China and Mongolia responded to the threat by alerting health workers, enhancing surveillance, conducting risk assessment and providing additional vaccination to children.

In the Western Pacific Region, there have been two episodes of wild poliovirus importation since certification—in 2006 from Nigeria into Singapore and in 2007 from Pakistan into Australia. They did not result in secondary cases.

In 2010, 793 cases of polio have so far been reported worldwide, compared with 1198 cases in the same period in 2009—a drop of more than 30%. Immunization against polio virus remains the most effective protection against the debilitating disease. While data on immunization activities indicate that most countries in the Western Pacific Region have maintained high levels of immunity against polio, there have also been reports of decreasing vaccination rates and gaps in surveillance in some places.

"Member States in the Western Pacific Region and partners need to continue providing the human and financial resources required to not only maintain our current polio-free status, but also to protect our investments, "Dr Shin said.

For more information, please contact Dr Sigi Roesel, WHO Medical Officer, at mobile: +63 908 872 7285; e-mail: roesels@wpro.who.int.

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