Papua New Guinea launches comprehensive outbreak response to cVDPV detection

Government launches emergency measures to prevent children from lifelong paralysis.

A child is protected from lifelong polio paralysis through OPV vaccination. © WHO
A child is protected from lifelong polio paralysis through OPV vaccination. © WHO

The first of four large-scale immunization campaigns is set to kick off in Papua New Guinea next week, following last month’s confirmation of a circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus type 1 (cVDPV1). More than 2900 health workers, vaccinators and volunteers have been mobilized to vaccinate almost 300 000 children under 5 years of age in Morobe, Madang and Eastern Highlands provinces. The campaign from 16-29 July is the first in a series of vital immunization campaigns planned every month for the next four months.

“Polio is back in Papua New Guinea and all un-immunized children are at risk,” said Pascoe Kase, Secretary of the National Department of Health (NDOH). “It is critical that every child under five years of age in Morobe, Madang and Eastern Highlands receives the polio vaccine during this and other immunization campaigns, until the country is polio-free again.”

As polio is a highly infectious disease which transmits rapidly, there is potential for the outbreak to spread to other children across the country, or even into neighbouring countries, unless swift action is taken. With no cure for polio, organisers of the immunization drive are calling for the full support of all sectors of society to ensure every child is protected. Parents living in the three provinces are encouraged to bring their children to local health centres or vaccination posts to receive the vaccine, free of charge, during the campaign.

“Everyone has a role to play in stopping this terrible disease,” commented Dr Luo Dapeng, WHO Representative in Papua New Guinea. “We call on parents to bring your children under five years of age for vaccination, irrespective of previous immunization status. Together, we can help ensure that this outbreak is rapidly stopped and that no further children are paralysed by polio.”

The Officer In Charge for UNICEF Representative, Ms. Judith Bruno, stressed, “As long as the polio virus persists anywhere, all un-immunized children remain at risk, and since polio carries enormous social costs, we must make it a key priority to stop its transmission so that children, families and communities are protected against this terrible disease.”

The immunization campaign is organized by the National Department of Health and the Provincial Health Authorities, with support from the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF, Rotary International and other partners.

Campaign dates are:
• First Round: 16-29 July 2018
• Second Round: 13-26 August 2018
• Third Round: 10-23 September 2018
• Fourth Round: 8-21 October 2018

Following confirmation of the cVDPV1, on 22 June the National Department of Health of Papua New Guinea immediately declared the outbreak a ‘national public health emergency’, requiring emergency measures to urgently stop it and prevent further children from lifelong polio paralysis. The measures implemented by the government intend to comply fully with the temporary recommendations issued under the International Health Regulations ‘Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC)’.

Papua New Guinea has not had a case of wild poliovirus since 1996, and the country was certified as polio-free in 2000 along with the rest of the WHO Western Pacific Region. In Morobe Province, polio vaccine coverage is suboptimal, with only 61% of children having received the recommended three doses of polio vaccine. Water, sanitation and hygiene are also challenges in the area, which could contribute to further spread of the virus.

Related News

After a thorough evaluation, an independent Polio Outbreak Response Assessment Team (OBRA), has concluded that there is no evidence of ongoing wild polio transmission in Mozambique and Malawi
Across Afghanistan, community advocacy to increase vaccine uptake for polio and other deadly diseases has some unsung champions: the local women
President and First Lady meet with GPEI delegation to discuss measures to increase immunity levels