Polio outbreak in the Philippines

On 19 September 2019, an outbreak of polio was declared in the Philippines. Children in the Philippines are at risk of lifelong paralysis because of this outbreak.

The Philippine Department of Health and partners are working together on a comprehensive outbreak response, including mass polio immunization rounds from October 2019. All children, regardless of whether they are covered by the mass immunization campaign or not, should be vaccinated according to the routine immunization schedule.

The Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) is supporting the Philippine Government’s response. The GPEI is a public-private partnership led by national governments with five partners – the World Health Organization (WHO), Rotary International, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Its goal is to eradicate polio worldwide.

WHO is providing technical advice on the outbreak response, on-the-ground monitoring and support for risk communication.

Ref. WHO


Joint media release/20 July 2020

The Department of Health (DOH), with support from the World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), is resuming its Sabayang Patak Kontra Polio campaign to combat the poliovirus outbreak in the Philippines. The polio immunization campaign was shortly put on hold because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The next phase of the Sabayang Patak Kontra Polio campaign in the whole of Mindanao will start on 20 July and last until 2 August 2020 for children under 5 years old. Children under 10 years old in selected areas in Mindanao will also receive polio drops.

Meanwhile, new polio immunization campaigns for children under 5 years old will begin in a phased approach in Region 3 (Central Luzon) on 20 July and in the provinces of Laguna, Cavite and Rizal in Region 4A in August.

DOH and the Centers for Health Development, together with WHO and UNICEF, have been preparing for the immunization campaign, addressing the special challenges posed by COVID-19 pandemic through online orientations and planning with field teams.

“Continuous implementation of polio response amid the present health crisis we are facing is important as this will prevent not only the debilitating effects of the disease, but also interrupt the transmission during a pandemic,” said Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque III.

“Polio is a vaccine-preventable disease and we cannot let our gains over the years go to waste by deprioritizing our polio response. It is imperative for parents and caregivers to have their children vaccinated, while strictly adhering to infection prevention and control protocols, as we cannot afford to overwhelm our health system with another outbreak,” Duque emphasized.

The Health Secretary added that a whole-of-government and whole-of-nation approach is critical in preventing the polio outbreak. “We are calling for the support of the local government units, and all relevant stakeholders as we endeavor to continue the ‘Sabayang Patak Kontra Polio’. This way, we become part of the solution in helping each other stay healthy and save lives.”

The polio outbreak in the Philippines was announced last 19 September 2019, with the first known confirmed case from a 3-year-old girl in Lanao del Sur. Since then, 15 more children have been confirmed with polio with ages ranging from below one-year old to 9 years old. The cases were identified in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), Region 12 (Soccsksargen), Region 3, and Region 4A.

Polio is a highly infectious disease that mainly affects young children, who have not completed their vaccination schedules. The disease is transmitted from person-to-person primarily through the faecal-to-oral route resulting from poor sanitation and hygiene practices, and less frequently through contaminated food or water. Once in the intestine, the poliovirus multiplies and it can invade the nervous system and cause paralysis or even death.

“We have to remember that the polio outbreak is not over, so it is critical that we continue this life-saving work of immunizing our children against this debilitating disease, while responding to COVID-19,” said Dr Rabindra Abeyasinghe, WHO Representative in the Philippines. “But we must also remember to ensure that our dedicated frontline health workers and our communities are fully protected from COVID-19 during the polio campaign.

"To the health workers as well as the parents, caregivers and the children participating in the campaign: Be vigilant in practicing the preventive measures such as frequent hand hygiene, physical distancing and wearing of masks during planning, implementing and evaluating the polio response," the WHO chief added.

The Sabayang Patak Kontra Polio campaign started in July 2019 after the detection of polioviruses from waterways in the National Capital Region (NCR). During the first quarter of 2020, immunization rounds also continued in Mindanao and the NCR, reaching 4.5 million children, more than 95% of the target children for vaccination. It is important to reach at least 95% coverage for each round of the polio immunization campaign to ensure enough immunity in the community to stop the spread of polio in the Philippines.

“Unlike COVID-19, we already have a vaccine against polio that it is safe, effective and free at health centers. The COVID-19 pandemic reminds us of the importance of vaccines to prevent diseases. Like wearing masks and physical distancing, each effort we make to vaccinate one child has the potential to protect all children from polio,” said Oyunsaikhan Dendevnorov, UNICEF Philippines Representative.

For the polio response, UNICEF helped the government procure supplies such as vaccines, freezers, ice packs, and vaccine carriers; develop and disseminated communication materials; enjoined civil society, religious leaders and other influencers to spread messages about polio prevention; trained health workers and other frontline workers on interpersonal communication and social mobilization; conducted planning and assessments, and gave assistance for proper vaccine disposal.

WHO, on the other hand, continues to provide technical advice in intensifying polio surveillance, planning for and monitoring of immunization campaigns, infection prevention and control measures, and risk communication. WHO has also deployed international and national polio experts who provide on-the-ground technical support to the regions and local implementers.

Ref. DOH

DOH, WHO say PH polio outbreak 'officially over'

June 11, 2021

MANILA – The Department of Health (DOH) and the World Health Organization (WHO) on Friday declared that the polio outbreak in the Philippines has officially ended.

In a virtual briefing, DOH Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said as of March 31 this year, 87.3 percent of the target population has been covered by the country’s polio supplemental immunization campaign.

“This level of coverage is an outstanding accomplishment for the country in combatting polio. And this was duly recognized by the WHO,” Vergeire said.

She said the WHO conveyed the recognition in a June 3 letter to the DOH. “The fact that we were able to do this amidst the Covid-19 pandemic means that we can no longer have any excuse to address the outstanding gaps in our national vaccination programs. Every unvaccinated child remains at risk of contracting this disease,” Vergeire said.

She emphasized that the country’s vaccination efforts against polio will continue and aims to “reach every child and thoroughly minimize the risk of another outbreak.”

In September 2019, she said a polio outbreak was declared in the Philippines after initial cases were reported and found that there was a transmission of the two types of Polioviruses in areas with low polio vaccine coverage.

“These Polioviruses were detected through the enhanced acute flaccid paralysis and environmental surveillance in the outbreak regions of the National Capital Region (NCR) and Mindanao,” Vergeire said.

In response, she said the DOH led a “unified response” through supplemental immunization campaigns but was paused when the Covid-19 pandemic struck the country.

When Covid-19 restrictions were eased, she said immunization services and additional health services resumed against the polio outbreak.

“The level of commitment of the implementers and vaccine uptake within communities enabled the DOH to further expand our polio response. We were able to cover the immunization gaps in the other regions brought about by the pandemic,” Vergeire said.

WHO Representative to the Philippines Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe, during the briefing, celebrated the accomplishment, noting that the polio outbreak affected the country “for more than 600 days.”

Despite the Philippines’ ending its outbreak, he said polio remains a “public health emergency of international concern.”

“The polio outbreak was overshadowed by another public health emergency of international concern, the Covid-19 pandemic. And we salute all of you who have made this possible during this extremely challenging period by your commitment and dedication to achieve the closure of this outbreak,” Abeyasinghe said.

Ref. PNA

Polio Fact sheet