The Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) is extremely concerned about the unfolding effects of the current crisis in Ukraine on the country’s health system. A functioning health system must be kept neutral and protected from all political or security issues affecting countries, to ensure that people have continued access to critical and essential care.
At the same time, we have seen time and again that large-scale population movements, insecurity and hampered access contribute greatly to the emergence and/or spread of infectious diseases, such as polio.
Ukraine is currently affected by a circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus type 2 (cVDPV2) outbreak, with the most recent case detected in January 2022 (with disease onset in December 2021).
A national supplemental polio immunization campaign targeting nearly 140,000 children throughout Ukraine who had not been vaccinated against polio began on 1 February 2022, but is currently paused, as health authorities have shifted focus towards emergency services. Surveillance to detect and report new cases of polio is also disrupted, increasing the risk of undetected spread of the disease among vulnerable populations. The GPEI is working to urgently develop contingency plans to support Ukraine and prevent further spread of polio.
The GPEI has a long history of working in a variety of complex environments, and will continue to adapt its operations to the reality on the ground, to the degree possible, without compromising on the safety and security of health workers. At the same time, immunization and surveillance is being assessed in neighbouring countries, to minimize the risk and consequences of any potential infectious disease emergence/spread resulting from the current large-scale population movements. It is critical that necessary resources are mobilized and made available to assist with the humanitarian needs, including relief, disease response/prevention efforts both in Ukraine and in neighbouring countries.