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Last Updated : Sep 22, 2019 09:07 AM IST | Source: Moneycontrol.com

Weekly wrap: Philippines polio outbreak; why India can't afford to be complacent

The polio outbreak in the Philippines is confirmed to be from a circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus type 2.

Representative Image
Representative Image

This past week, there was a major setback in the global fight against polio.

The Philippines announced an outbreak of polio, 19 years after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the Southeast Asian country free of the infectious disease.

Philippines government confirmed two cases of polio. One is a five-year-old boy in Laguna, a province southeast of Manila, and another a three-year-old girl in southern Lanao del Sur province. In addition, environmental samples from sewage in Manila and waterways in Davao were confirmed to contain the virus.

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The government blamed poor immunisation coverage, lack of sanitation, proper hygiene and poor surveillance by health workers among the reasons for the re-emergence of the disease.

Vaccine derived polio 

The polio outbreak in the Philippines is confirmed to be from a circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus type 2.

This is of particular concern, as wild poliovirus type 2 was certified as globally eradicated in 2015.

"Poorly conducted immunisation activities, when few children have received the required three doses of polio vaccine, leave them susceptible to poliovirus, either from vaccine-derived or wild polioviruses," WHO said in a statement.

The only solution is to go for a full polio immunisation drive for protection against both forms of the virus.

This is what Philippines government is doing now.

Polio is an infectious disease that mainly affects young children. It causes muscle weakness and paralysis. While there is no cure for polio, it can be prevented by vaccination.

WHO is asking countries to shift to more safer inactivated polio virus (IPV) vaccine that contains dead virus, from Oral Polio Vaccines (OPV) - containing live but weakened virus. OPV has been the mainstay of vaccination in most developing and poor countries.

But sometimes OPV, despite their critical role in eradicating polio, becomes a problem.

The polio virus in the vaccine, that's excreted by the person who is immunised gets activated in rare occasions. In areas of inadequate sanitation, this excreted vaccine-virus can spread in the immediate community.

Can't drop the ball

Even in India, last year there was the scare of vaccines contaminated by the long-eradicated type 2 polio virus supplied by a Delhi-based company called Bio-Med. The government went on a polio vaccination overdrive to contain the fallout of the contamination.

India became polio free in 2014, this was one of the single biggest public health success story. The Phillipines outbreak shows that we can't get complicit. Relentless immunisation drive, improving sanitation, survelliance, and shift to IPV, will go a long way in ensuring that the polio will not be back again.

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First Published on Sep 22, 2019 09:01 am
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