PAHO calls for increased vigilance on eve of World Polio Day
Washington – On the eve of World Polio Day, celebrated on October 24, the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) marked the 30th anniversary of the last case of poliomyelitis in the Americas, including the Caribbean, calling for increased vigilance.
On Friday, PAHO said that in August 1991, a Peruvian boy from the country’s Junín mountains became the last person to be detected with the wild poliovirus.
Three years later, in 1994, PAHO said the Americas became the first region in the world to be certified as polio free by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
“This extraordinary accomplishment was made possible by mass vaccination efforts and robust epidemiologic surveillance that was underpinned by a strong network of laboratories,” said PAHO Dominican-born Director Dr Carissa F. Etienne.
As World Polio Day is recognised on Sunday, “we’re reminded of what this region can achieve when it works together to keep health threats in check, when we protect the most vulnerable, and ensure all people have access to life-saving vaccines,” said Etienne.
She called on countries to increase polio vaccination rates, which have declined in recent years due to various causes, including increased vaccine hesitancy.
Even before COVID-19, PAHO said polio vaccination had fallen below the 95 per cent coverage rate recommended to prevent the reintroduction of the virus.
Amid the pandemic – which has disrupted health services across the region, including routine immunization – polio vaccination rates have continued to fall, PAHO said.
In 2020, it said only 80 per cent of children had received the third dose of the oral vaccine needed for full immunization – a decline from 87 per cent in 2019.
“Strong surveillance and continued vaccination are the only ways to ensure that we remain polio free and support polio eradication at the global level,” said Dr Cuauhtemoc Ruiz Matus, head of PAHO’s Immunization Programme. “We must increase polio vaccination in the children of the Americas, strengthen our epidemiological surveillance, and support our polio laboratory networks.”
Ruiz urged families to make sure children get all recommended doses of the polio vaccine.
“Polio vaccines are safe and effective,” he said. “When polio vaccination first began, people trusted immunization and this faith allowed the Americas to become the first region in the world to eliminate the disease.”
In 1975, before widespread immunization, PAHO said almost 6 000 children were paralysed in the Americas due to polio.
But with technical support from PAHO, vaccination coverage in children under the age of one rose from 25 per cent in 1978 to more than 80 percent in 1993.
PAHO said polio is a highly infectious disease caused by the poliomyelitis virus.
It said the virus is transmitted from person to person through fecal matter.
While most poliovirus infections do not produce symptoms, PAHO said the virus can destroy parts of the nervous systems and cause paralysis in the legs or arms.
PAHO said there are three types of wild polioviruses and that several doses of the oral vaccine are needed to provide immunity.
Since 1994, when the Americas was certified as polio free, PAHO said other World Health Organisation (WHO) regions have achieved the same status.
PAHO said the most recent was Africa, which was certified as wild poliovirus-free in August 2020.
It said only two countries in the world continue to report wild poliovirus transmission: Pakistan and Afghanistan.
World Polio Day is an annual observance that recognises global efforts to advance towards a polio-free world. (CMC)