On the 12th anniversary of the last case of wild poliovirus in the South-East Asia Region, WHO today urged countries to take urgent and accelerated action against measles, which is on the rise and nearly 9 million children have not been vaccinated against it. the deadly disease in the past two years.
“The strong political commitment, determination, focused and concerted efforts, and community support that marked our efforts to eliminate polio are now urgently needed to halt and prevent measles outbreaks and accelerate efforts to eliminate polio. disease,” said Dr. Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, WHO Southeast Asia.
Measles and rubella elimination is a flagship priority program of the WHO South-East Asia Region. Between 2014 and 2021, the Region registered a 73% reduction in measles deaths and a 64% reduction in measles cases. Five of the 11 countries in the South-East Asia Region (Bhutan, DPR Korea, Maldives, Sri Lanka, and Timor-Leste) have eliminated measles, and two countries, Maldives and Sri Lanka, have also eliminated rubella. Countries have been administering two doses of measles vaccine as part of their childhood immunization program and some are implementing mass vaccination campaigns.
However, when the pandemic hit, measles vaccination coverage, which had reached an all-time high of 94% coverage for the first dose and 83% coverage for the second dose in 2019, dropped to 86% and 78%. respectively in 2021, leaving nine million children unvaccinated against measles and around 5.3 million children partially vaccinated against this highly infectious and deadly disease.
“The decline in vaccination coverage, and the disruptions and delays in immunization and surveillance activities due to COVID-19, leaves the Region susceptible to large outbreaks and off track towards the measles and rubella elimination goal for 2023”, said the Regional Director.
Implementing key removal strategies and at an accelerated pace is the need of the hour, he said.
“We urgently need to close the immunity gaps with tailored approaches to achieve the greatest impact, such as update campaigns and strengthening routine immunization with better micro-planning,” said the Regional Director.
Countries should also ensure adequate investment in laboratory-supported case-based surveillance for timely detection of measles cases and outbreaks, to facilitate an adequate response, he said.
The Regional Director commended the countries of the Region for their continued efforts against polio. The Region reported its last case of wild poliovirus from Howrah in West Bengal, India, 12 years ago, and maintains its polio-free status.
In November 2022, Indonesia reported an outbreak of circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus type 2 in Aceh province. The country carried out a timely mass vaccination campaign with the new oral vaccine against type 2 poliomyelitis, aimed at 1.2 million children under 13 years of age in the province.
In 2022, the overall polio surveillance indicators in the Region remained above the globally recommended standards. More than 63,000 stool samples were tested in polio laboratories in the South-East Asia Region during 2022 for any poliovirus. More than 2,200 wastewater samples were tested for poliovirus in the Region as part of environmental surveillance being carried out at 91 sites in six countries in the Region.
To maintain population immunity against poliovirus, all countries in the Region are currently providing bivalent oral polio vaccine together with inactivated polio vaccine in their national immunization programs. Mass polio vaccination campaigns were carried out in selected countries during 2021 and 2022 and more than 220 million children received additional doses of oral polio vaccine through these campaigns during each of the past two years.
“All countries have been taking various initiatives to reactivate and resume childhood vaccination coverage and surveillance activities that were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. These efforts must be sustained and further strengthened to maintain polio-free status in the Region and protect children from deadly and debilitating vaccine-preventable diseases,” said Dr. Khetrapal Singh.
Public Information and Promotion Officer
WHO Regional Office for South-East Asia
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