In a follow-up to a report last week, the National Department of Health of Papua New Guinea and the World Health Organization (WHO) today confirmed that the strain of poliovirus first detected in a child from Morobe Province in April is now circulating in the same community.

Poliovirus Image/CDC
Poliovirus Image/CDC

The one confirmed case is a 6-year-old boy with lower limb weakness, first detected on 28 April 2018. A vaccine-derived poliovirus type 1 (VDPV1) had been isolated as the cause of the paralysis on 21 May 2018.

On 22 June 2018, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed that the same virus was also isolated from stool specimens of two healthy children from the same community. This means that the virus is circulating in the community—representing an outbreak of the virus.

“We are deeply concerned about this polio case in Papua New Guinea, and the fact that the virus is circulating,” said Pascoe Kase, Secretary of the National Department of Health (NDOH). “Our immediate priority is to respond and prevent more children from being infected.”

The NDOH has formally informed WHO and has been working with WHO and other partners in launching a response. Some of the immediate steps include conducting large-scale immunization campaigns and strengthening surveillance systems that help detect the virus early. These activities are also being strengthened in neighbouring provinces.

“Since the detection of poliovirus in April, WHO has been working with the Government on the investigation, laboratory confirmation, enhanced surveillance and response activities,” said Dr Luo Dapeng, WHO Representative in Papua New Guinea. “We will continue to support the Government to ensure children are protected.”

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 low, with only 61% of children having received the recommended 3 doses. Water, sanitation and hygiene are also challenges in the area.