MANILA, 13 October 2011—The World Health Organization's governing body in the Western Pacific today reviewed how the Region is faring with regard to three dangerous infectious diseases: measles, hepatitis B and polio.
The Regional Committee for the Western Pacific, currently meeting in Manila to review WHO's work in the Region, urged all stakeholders to commit the human and financial resources necessary to achieve the high immunization coverage and timely surveillance needed to eliminate measles, to control hepatitis B and to stay polio-free.
The Committee reviewed the Region's progress as well as China's speedy response to its recent outbreak of wild poliovirus.
Polio has sickened 17 children and adults, with 1 death, since China informed the World Health Organization on 26 August that wild poliovirus type 1 had been isolated from four children. In Xinjiang Province, genetic sequencing indicated that the cases found in China are closely related to virus circulating in Pakistan.
"Countries must maintain high population immunity levels, and strong disease surveillance, to minimize the risk and consequences of re-infection," said Dr Shin Young-soo, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific. "It is equally important to have a comprehensive implementation plan in place that can be rapidly activated."
The outbreak response team in China, with WHO's technical support, has been working extensively to identify the extent of circulation of the poliovirus. A team of epidemiologists and public health experts was dispatched to the affected provinces to assist in the investigation, planning and implementation of response activities.
At the same time, Dr Shin reported that measles incidence is decreasing dramatically in the Region following immunization campaigns in priority countries, and that 25 of the Region's 37 countries and areas may have already achieved their measles elimination goals. Under a 2010 Regional Committee resolution, the remaining countries have only 15 months to stop endemic measles virus transmission. WHO said that to eliminate measles regionally by 2012, countries will need to conduct targeted immunization in residual areas where measles virus transmission is ongoing and improve surveillance systems.
The Region’s 2012 milestone to reduce chronic hepatitis B infection in children to less than 2% is likely to be achieved in 27 countries and areas, representing 88% of the Region's population. Achieving the hepatitis B milestone in the other nine countries will require vaccinating more children with three doses of hepatitis B vaccine, including a dose within 24 hours of birth.
The Regional Committee, composed of 37 countries and areas in the Western Pacific, rallied behind China in efforts to contain the spread of wild poliovirus. China's Ministry of Health has undertaken several vaccination rounds, targeting millions of children as well as people 15 to 39 years old, in a province-wide response vaccination campaign began in September 2011. A second immunization response round has just been held, and a third vaccination campaign is planned in November.
Immunization activities will have to continue until China is again polio-free. At least three large-scale vaccination campaigns will need to be conducted, to reach every child with oral polio vaccine at least three times, and until the current outbreak has been stopped, WHO said.
WHO emphasized that for every case of paralysis due to polio, there are an average of 200 asymptomatic people who may spread the wild poliovirus to others.