Countries of the Americas stand resolute in the global fight against polio

Over 140 public health experts from 22 countries gather at the 6th Regional Meeting on Polio in Guatemala

“On the way to global certification” was the theme of this year’s Regional Meeting on Polio, which convened on 6 December 2018 in Guatemala City. Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) urged collective action to not only ensure that there is no re-emergence of polio in the Americas, but also to lend support in the global fight against polio.

Cuauhtémoc Ruiz-Matus, Chief of the Comprehensive Family Immunization Unit at the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), addressing the meeting. © WHO/PAHO
Cuauhtémoc Ruiz-Matus, Chief of the Comprehensive Family Immunization Unit at the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), addressing the meeting. © WHO/PAHO

The last reported case of polio in the Americas was documented in 1991 and in 1994 the region became the first to be certified free of the disease. But that is not to say there is room for complacency. Echoing the Global Polio Eradication Initiative’s goal of a polio-free world, Cuauhtémoc Ruiz-Matus, Chief of the Comprehensive Family Immunization Unit at the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said, “As long as there is even one infected child, children in all countries are at risk of contracting polio,” during the inauguration.

With recent reports emerging that some of the countries in the Americas have vaccination coverage hovering below 95% — the minimum baseline required to prevent circulation —  there is a real chance of outbreak through  importation of virus or the emergence of circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus.

“We know that there is a risk of reintroduction of polio, which is why Guatemala has committed to adhere to PAHO’s strategic plan so that the Region remains polio-free,” said the Deputy Health Minister of Guatemala, Roberto Molina. The country recorded its last case of polio in 1990.

Participants at the 6th Regional Meeting on Polio in Guatemala. © WHO/PAHO
Participants at the 6th Regional Meeting on Polio in Guatemala. © WHO/PAHO

Reiterating the need for continued efforts, PAHO Representative in Guatemala, Oscar Barreneche, highlighted that “maintaining standards of surveillance, containment and response to outbreaks, and vaccination is key.”

As the world reaches closer to poliovirus eradication, the countries of the Americas will play an instrumental role in sustaining the momentum for the cause and preventing reintroduction of the disease in the continent.

Read about the meeting.

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