WHO, UNICEF tell parents to vaccinate kids under age 5 amid polio re-emergence

Gabriel Agcaoili, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 19 2019 07:05 PM | Updated as of Sep 19 2019 07:06 PM

MANILA - The World Health Organization (WHO) on Thursday urged parents and guardians of children under age 5 to have them vaccinated in wake of re-emergence of polio in the Philippines.

This, after the Department of Health (DOH) confirmed a polio case in Lanao del Sur and detected the disease in water sewage samples in the cities of Manila and Davao.

“We are very concerned that polioviruses are now circulating in Manila, Davao, and Lanao del Sur,” said Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe, WHO Representative in the Philippines, in a statement.

“WHO and UNICEF (United Nations Children's Fund) are working closely with the Department of Health (DOH) to strengthen surveillance and swiftly respond to this outbreak," she added.

Polio (poliomyelitis) is a contagious disease caused when the poliovirus enters the nervous system. Symptoms include fever, fatigue, headache, vomiting, stiff neck and sudden onset of floppy arms or legs. Severe cases can lead to permanent paralysis or even death, according to the DOH. 

According to a DOH Fact Sheet, polioviruses "primarily spread via oral-fecal route - often through food, water or objects contaminated with feces from an infected person."

DOH earlier confirmed the disease's return in the country, 19 years after WHO declared the country as polio-free.

UNICEF also pleaded with parents and guardians to have their kids in the age bracket to undergo vaccination, saying it was "urgent" for them do so.

"Vaccination is the only and best protection against polio that mainly affects children under 5 years of age," said Oyun Dendevnorov, UNICEF Philippines Representative.

"As long as one single child remains infected, children across the country and even beyond are at risk of contracting polio."

DOH Secretary Francisco Duque III earlier warned that the country was at "high risk for poliovirus transmission" as there had been a drop in oral polio vaccine (OPV) coverage in the past years.

This traces back to the vaccine scare linked to the controversy over anti-dengue virus Dengvaxia, said to have ill effects if given to those who have not had dengue.

- With a report from Raphael Bosano, ABS-CBN News