MANILA, Philippines (AP) – A polio epidemic in the Philippines has ended, according to the World Health Organization and the United Nations Children’s Fund, which have praised the government’s efforts to fight the disease despite the coronavirus pandemic.
United Nations agencies said in a joint statement Friday that the Philippine Ministry of Health concluded its response to the polio outbreak on June 3 after no cases were detected for 16 months following the outbreak. a mass vaccination campaign and surveillance.
Philippine health officials announced that polio reappeared in the country in September 2019, nearly two decades after the WHO declared the Southeast Asian nation free of the viral disease, which can cause paralysis and the death. There is no known cure.
Government health officials, backed by WHO and UNICEF, then dramatically expanded an anti-polio campaign that continued despite the start of the COVID-19 pandemic last year. About 30 million doses of oral polio vaccine have been given to children in the Philippines.
“This is a major victory for public health and it is a great example of what collective efforts can achieve, even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Dr Rabindra Abeyasinghe, who represents the WHO in the Philippines.
The polio vaccination campaign also faced a scare involving another vaccine.
The government’s vaccination programs were marred in 2017 by a dengue vaccine made by French drug maker Sanofi Pasteur that some Filipino officials have linked to the deaths of at least three children.
The government halted the dengue vaccination campaign after Sanofi said a study showed the vaccine may increase the risk of serious dengue infections. More than 830,000 children received the Dengvaxia vaccine as part of the campaign, which started in 2016 and ended in 2017.
Sanofi officials said the Dengvaxia vaccine was safe and would reduce dengue infections if the vaccination campaign continued.
Since then, Philippine health officials have struggled to restore public confidence in vaccines.