The World Health Organization (WHO) commended the Philippine polio program on top of the government’s steady fight to contain and reduce the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19).
In a letter signed by Director General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO particularly cited the Department of Health’s (DOH) efforts in prioritizing the preventive treatment of polio through immunization especially for children, despite the current challenges in managing the prevailing Covid-19 pandemic.
Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque III acknowledged that the ongoing polio response must continue amid the Covid-19 crisis as he noted that the medical, financial, and relational pressures caused by the pandemic can make people neglect or dismiss their children’s potential exposure to polio.
“Polio is a vaccine-preventable disease and we cannot let our gains over the years go to waste by deprioritizing our polio response, despite the pandemic. Parents and caregivers must have their children vaccinated, while strictly adhering to the infection prevention and control protocols, as we cannot afford to overwhelm our health system with another outbreak,” Duque said.
An infected three-year-old girl diagnosed in Lanao del Sur in September 2019 was the first documented case of polio in the Philippines in recent years. Fifteen more positive cases of children have emerged since then: their ages range from below 1-year-old to 9 years old; and their original locations have been traced to the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), Region 12 (Soccsksargen), Region 3 (Central Luzon), and Region 4A (Calabarzon).
The WHO letter also highlighted the DOH’s launch of the first phase of an integrated supplementary immunization activity, which combines the delivery of measles-rubella vaccine with the bivalent oral polio vaccine (bOPV).
It also noted the health department’s simultaneous two-pronged objective to shield the people, communities, and health workers alike from the infection and transmission of both Covid-19 and vaccine-preventable diseases.
“We admire the department’s ability to sustain and reinforce the National Immunization Program (NIP) and vaccine-preventable disease surveillance system by securing regular operational funding and appointing qualified staff at all levels to ensure NIP performance, sustainability, and preparedness for multipurpose national needs. We look forward to sharing the lessons learned in this challenging time,” wrote Ghebreyesus.
Duque highlighted the leadership of the different local government units and development partners like the WHO and the United Nations Children’s Fund.
“This is not just the success of a few people. This is the success of all of us in the DOH, to our partners, and down to our ‘bakunators’ at the grassroots level,” Duque said.
He also thanked the on-ground vaccinators who braved the harsh conditions in traveling to far-flung areas, “You have set the bar for selfless service — trudging through jungles and scaling mountains to protect our children.”
“We will not allow Covid-19 to stymie our efforts nor distract us from our regular programs that protect our people. Through our continued, collective effort, I am confident that we will be able to swiftly and effectively prevent Polio and other vaccine-preventable illnesses from affecting our countrymen, especially our children,” he said. (PNA)