By Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, WHO Regional Director for South-East Asia

On the sixth anniversary of the last case of wild poliovirus in the South-East Asia Region, World Health Organization commends countries in the Region for their continued efforts to protect children against this crippling virus and maintain the Region’s polio-free status, despite challenging conditions.

Poliovirus  Image/CDC
Poliovirus Image/CDC

Amid a global shortage of injectable inactivated polio vaccine (IPV), countries in the WHO South-East Asia Region are opting to use fractional doses of IPV, an evidence-based intervention that not only ensures continued protection of children against all types of polioviruses, but also helps save vaccine – a move bound to positively impact global vaccine supply in the coming years.

India became the first country globally to introduce fractional doses of IPV in childhood immunization programme in eight of its 36 states / union territories in early 2016. The initiative is now being scaled up nationwide. Sri Lanka followed suit in July 2016. Bangladesh has decided to introduce fractional IPV doses this year. Other countries in the Region are also considering a shift to the use of fractional IPV doses in their immunization schedule.

Studies have confirmed that two fractional doses (one fractional dose is one-fifth of a full dose) of IPV, given twice to infants – first at the age of six weeks and then at 14 weeks – provide the same protection against all polioviruses as does one full dose of IPV.

By using fractional IPV, countries are saving vaccine and vaccine cost, without compromising on the protection that the vaccine provides to children against polio.

Since polio-free certification on 27 March 2014, all countries in WHO South-East Asia Region have been working towards timely implementation of the global polio end game strategy to achieve a polio-free world.

South-East Asia was the first WHO Region to complete the polio vaccine switch from the traditionally used trivalent oral polio vaccine (tOPV) to the bivalent vaccine (bOPV) to prevent any paralysis caused by type 2 poliovirus strain in tOPV.

As a part of the global polio endgame strategy, countries in the Region have introduced IPV to supplement the oral polio vaccine (OPV), and ensure protection against all types of polioviruses, while the programme globally strives towards stopping poliovirus transmission and cessation of OPV use.

The date – 13 January – the last time that wild poliovirus crippled a child in WHO South-East Asia Region in the year 2011, should be a reminder to all countries of the continued need to reach every child with polio vaccines and to strengthen disease surveillance so that poliovirus does not return to cripple children in our Region.