DOH warning: Philippines at high risk for polio

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines is currently at a "high risk" for poliovirus transmission, the Department of Health (DOH) said in a statement released on Saturday, August 17. 

The DOH sees a high risk for transmission of poliovirus, the virus that causes poliomyelitis or polio, because of low vaccination coverage, poor early surveillance of polio symptoms, and substandard sanitation practices. 

Polio is a highly contagious disease caused by poliovirus invading the nervous system. Symptoms include fever, fatigue, headache, vomiting, stiff neck and sudden onset of floppy arms or legs. In severe cases, it can lead to permanent paralysis or even death. Children under 5 years of age are most vulnerable to the disease. 

The country was declared polio-free since October 2000, with the last case of wild poliovirus reported in 1993. (READ: Eradicating polio: Almost there but not quite)

“For the past years, vaccination coverage for the third dose of the oral polio vaccine (OPV) has fallen below 95%, the target required to ensure population protection against polio,” the health department said. 

The DOH said that “complete vaccination” is the best preventive measure against the disease. It advised that all children under one year of age to complete 3 doses of oral polio vaccine and 1 dose of inactivated polio vaccine.  

The DOH added that the “surveillance on acute flaccid paralysis (AFP) had been consistently poor.” 

Acute flaccid paralysis, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) is “a sudden onset of paralysis or weakness in any part of the body of a child less than 15 years of age.” The WHO says AFP surveillance is important as it helps “detect paralytic poliomyelitis due to wild poliovirus transmission in [a given] population.”

“There are many causes of AFP, so each AFP needs to be evaluated to find out if the paralysis is due to polio or not. Polio is only one out of the many causes of AFP,” the WHO adds. 

The DOH also pointed out “open defecation and poor sanitation” in communities as triggers that have put the country back at risk of the highly infectious viral disease. Polioviruses primarily spread through feces.  

“Unless we act quickly in putting our surveillance on alert to detect signs of poliovirus transmission, in strengthening our immunization program, and in improving environmental hygiene and sanitation, we risk losing our polio-free status. Most importantly, we risk the health and future of our children due to a disease which otherwise could have been prevented,” Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said.  

The DOH said it had planned measures to enhance prevention of the disease in Metro Manila. Among these are the heightened AFP surveillance, as well as an immunization campaign for children below 5 years.  

The immunization campaign in the City of Manila is set to start mid-August. It will then expand to the whole of Metro Manila and, eventually, other “priority regions” that the DOH has yet to identify.

The health department also urges local governments to intensify their Zero Open Defecation program and calls for proper sanitation practices. – Rappler.com