The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned of the “international spread of wild poliovirus” that has infected people of some countries in Asia and Africa.
In response to the warning, officials of various government agencies led by the Department of Health (DOH) are set to meet and discuss measures to prevent the wild poliovirus from infecting Filipinos in the country and overseas. The Philippines has been polio-free for the past 14 years.
Data from the WHO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, revealed that cases of wild poliovirus have been reported in Pakistan, Cameroon and Syria, while Afghanistan, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Iraq, Israel, Somalia and Nigeria reported wild poliovirus infection of their citizens as of April 26 this year.
In its report, an emergency committee created by WHO advised that the spread of wild poliovirus “constitutes an ‘extraordinary event’ and a public health risk” to these countries.
The report said by the end of last year, 60 percent of polio cases worldwide were spread by adult travelers.
“A coordinated international response is deemed essential to stop this international spread of wild poliovirus and to prevent new spread with the onset of the high transmission seasons in May [or]June 2014,” it added.
The emergency committee recommended that leaders of countries with wild poliovirus cases should “officially declare that the interruption of wild poliovirus is a national public health emergency.”
It further advised affected countries to intensify their supplementary and routine immunization campaigns for their citizens, long-term visitors and outbound travelers.
WHO standards indicate that a dose of oral polio vaccine (OPV) or inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) should be given between four weeks and 12 months before traveling to another country.
The WHO defines wild poliovirus, or poliomyelitis, as a highly infectious disease that affects children under five years of age and invades the central nervous system. It could cause total paralysis in a matter of hours. The virus enters the body through the mouth and multiplies in the intestines. Symptoms include fever, fatigue, headache, vomiting, stiffness in the neck and pain in the limbs.
Meet vs polio
Dr. Lyndon Lee Suy of the DOH’s National Center for Disease Prevention and Control told reporters on Wednesday that the DOH will lead an inter-agency meeting to tackle the issue this week.
The DOH will meet with officials of the Foreign Affairs and Tourism departtments, the Overseas Workers’ Welfare Administration, the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, the Bureau of Immigration and the Bureau of Quarantine.
“Although we have no polio problem at present, the WHO advisory warned of a threat,” Lee Suy said.
He added that Filipinos who travel to countries currently affected by the spread of wild poliovirus would be protected by anti-polio vaccination. But Lee Suy said health surveillance for overseas Filipinos and foreigners entering the country should be tightened.
The DOH, through its Expanded Program on Immunization (EPI), conducts mass vaccinations against the disease. The EPI will be implemented again in September this year, two years after the last mass vaccination.
One of the goals of EPI is “to sustain the polio-free status” of the country.
The last case of polio in the country was recorded in 1993. The WHO declared the Philippines polio-free in October 2011.