MANILA - More than 400,000 children in Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi will receive additional protection from polio.
The World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), in cooperation with the Department of Health (DOH), will help vaccinate a total of 488,000 children in the remote islands of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi (BaSulTa).
According to UNICEF, children in these areas are at risk of infection from polio due to low vaccination coverage, as well as inaccessibility and security issues in island municipalities and barangays.
For added protection, children below 10 years old will be given an additional 3 rounds of polio vaccine, UNICEF said.
Those living in the BaSulTa (Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi) area and Zamboanga City will be given the vaccine from Jan. 6 to 12, while the Mindanao-wide vaccination will be on Jan. 20 to Feb. 2, Feb. 17 to Mar. 1, and Mar. 23 to Apr. 4.
“WHO recognizes that DOH and local government units have been working tirelessly during the holidays to prepare for this response. The high-level political support has been instrumental in the success we witnessed in the previous rounds, and urge all parties to ensure high coverage during this campaign to ensure that all the vulnerable children in these islands will receive the much-needed protection,” Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe, WHO Representative to the Philippines, said.
DOH announced a polio outbreak in the Philippines last September 19, 2019, with the first type 2 poliovirus case found in Marogong, Lanao del Sur. On November 26, DOH announced the re-emergence of type 1 poliovirus in Maluso, Basilan.
On December 6, the first case of polio after 27 years was confirmed in Sabah, Malaysia, and revealed to have genetic links to the polio case found in Basilan, according to UNICEF.
According to UNICEF, previous vaccination rounds in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) showed that the local government units needed additional help in hard-to-reach areas.
The WHO, UNICEF and other partners are providing the DOH and local government units with technical support for the implementation of the polio campaign.
“UNICEF is concerned about the plight of children in BaSulTa and the rest of children in BARMM. They are among the most vulnerable children in the Philippines. Vaccination is the only way to protect children from polio. Vaccines are safe and effective. We must all work hand in hand to stop the spread of the virus,” Andrew Morris, UNICEF Chief of Mindanao Field Office, said.
In September, the DOH confirmed the re-emergence of polio in the Philippines, nearly 2 decades since the World Health Organization declared the country free from the disease.
Polio is a "highly infectious viral disease, which mainly affects young children," according to the WHO. Severe polio cases may cause paralysis and death.