Deadly contagious virus returns: What we missed in the battle against Polio

Oct. 22, 2019

Last August, the Department of Health (DOH) released a statement that from being a polio-free country, the Philippines is now at high-risk for polio virus transmission. Until last month, the said office already declared a polio epidemic.

This declaration came after the DOH recorded a case of the disease from a 3-year-old girl from Lanao del Sur, the first confirmed case after 19 years and after environmental samples tested positive for polio virus from Manila and Davao.

The health department said that in a polio-free country, these reported case and samples positive for polio virus are considered epidemic.

Yes, Polio is back. Its return surprised the health sector, and the public. This as we thought, we have won the fight against polio nineteen years ago.

The Philippines was declared polio-free since October 2000. The last case of wild polio virus was reported in 1993 according to the DOH.

It turns out just recently, we have somehow failed. Polio has returned. Or has it actually been eliminated?

A rundown of the basics is an order now, to help us understand what is happening.

Let us begin with what has resurrected. Poliomyelitis or Polio is a contagious disease. It is caused by the polio virus that invades the nervous system. Polio patients manifest the following symptoms: fever, headaches, vomiting, stiff neck, fatigue, sudden floppiness of arms or legs. And according to the health sectors and institutions, severe cases of polio may lead to permanent paralysis or death.

The virus is spread through eating or drinking something contaminated with the poliovirus —commonly via the stool of the person infected with polio or less commonly through respiratory droplets or saliva.

Now, what is immunization and vaccination?

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) “immunization is the process whereby a person is made immune or resistant to an infectious disease.”

The typical way of administering this process is through vaccination. Vaccines, according to WHO, stimulate the body’s own immune system to protect the person against subsequent infection or disease.

The said institution believes that “immunization is a proven tool for controlling and eliminating life-threatening infectious diseases and is estimated to avert between 2 and 3 million deaths each year.”

True enough, immunization through vaccination is one the most cost-effective health investments. Through vaccination programs, governments can make them accessible to farthest and the poorest communities.

Why is Polio back in the scene?

There is no known cure yet to poliomyelitis, or a medicine that could suppress the polio virus. But like other deadly diseases, there is a vaccine for polio.

According to the DOH, “complete vaccination” is the best preventive measure against the disease. The said health department advised that all children under one year of age need to complete 3 doses of oral polio vaccine and 1 dose of inactivated polio vaccine.

However, vaccination coverage for the third dose of the oral polio vaccine (OPV) has fallen below 95% for the past years according to the DOH. This is the target required to ensure population protection against polio.

This is on top of poor early surveillance of polio symptoms, and substandard sanitation practices as among the identified factors for the high-risk transmission of poliovirus.

According to the DOH, “surveillance of acute flaccid paralysis (AFP) had been consistently poor.” Monitoring of AFP is important for evaluation if it is caused by the poliovirus.

“Open defecation and poor sanitation” in communities are triggers that have put the country back at risk of the highly infectious viral disease the department of health warned. Polioviruses spread through feces.

The health department has laid down measure to enhance prevention of the disease in Metro Manila and priority regions.

Prevention is still better than cure. But the weight is not greatly on the public. It’s still on the health sector and the concerned authorities.

Pharmacist, as one of the most accessible healthcare provider, can be maximize to vaccinate in all community pharmacies in the country.

The people will always act according to the information provided to them. The more they are aware, and more support they can access the more we expect from them the cooperation and initiative from the public.

An accessible universal health care system is the key to prevention of spread and resurrection of deadly diseases.

What did we miss?

The Battle still begins.

(Credits to: Dr. Erica Tania Davillo)

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