'We need to act now': Health chief warns of polio return in PH

Bianca Dava, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 31 2019 04:52 PM

MANILA - The Philippines is currently at “high risk for poliovirus transmission,” a health official said on Saturday, as he called for urgent action to avert the return of the disease.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said there has been a drop in oral polio vaccine (OPV) coverage in the past years. This traces back to the vaccine scare linked to the controversy over anti-dengue virus Dengvaxia, said to have ill effects if given to those who have not had dengue.

“In 2018, the vaccine coverage for the third dose of OPV was 66 percent. This figure is below the 95 percent target required to ensure that the whole population is protected against polio,” Duque said in a press conference in Quezon City.

The health chief said that while there has been no reported polio case in recent years, this year, two samples taken from a sewage in Manila tested positive for vaccine-derived poliovirus.

But he made it clear, these are isolated samples from the environment, not from human beings.

The Philippines has been polio-free since October 2000, with the last recorded case in 1993.

“If we do not take appropriate actions now, polio will return. We need to urgently act to stop its spread in our communities,” he said.

Duque added that poor sanitation practices persisting in some areas is also a factor in the recurrence of polio.

“The infection is transmitted through the fecal-oral route where environmental sanitation and personal hygiene are poor,” Duque explained.

He continued: “For example, if someone touches anything contaminated with human waste that has the virus, and then touches the mouth and eats food without washing their hands properly, the virus could enter through the mouth.”

Polio is a highly contagious disease caused when the poliovirus invades the nervous system.

Signs and symptoms include fever, fatigue, headache, vomiting, stiff neck and sudden onset of floppy arms or legs.

Severe cases can lead to permanent paralysis or even death. Children under 5 years of age are most vulnerable to the disease, Duque explained.

The health chief said the best preventive measure against polio is through complete vaccination.

Duque stressed the need for children under 1 year old to complete their three doses of OPV and one dose of the inactivated polio vaccine.

Just this month, the department started a synchronized polio immunization in Manila. This will be expanded to the whole of Metro Manila, and eventually to other regions.

The first round of synchronized polio vaccination was done in Manila from August 19 until this Saturday.

The second round will be carried out in the nation’s capital and the rest of Metro Manila from October 1 to 14.

The third round will be done in the whole of Metro Manila and Regions III and IV-A from November 18 to 30.

“There will be three rounds. The first round in the City of Manila with 197,000 children vaccinated. For the second round, we have Manila and in the whole of NCR (National Capital Region), 1.2 million children. And for the third round, the whole of NCR, Region III and Region IV-A, 5.5 million children,” said Assistant Health Secretary Maria Rosario Vergeire.

The vaccination is free and will be administered by giving a child two drops of OPV by mouth.

Duque also urged local government units to intensify the implementation of the Zero Open Defecation program and to strengthen the call for environmental sanitation and personal hygiene, such as frequent handwashing.