Philippines: Red Cross scales up as polio threatens 11 million children

Manila/Kuala Lumpur/Geneva 2 October 2019 -  Polio has made an alarming come-back after officially being eradicated 19 years ago in the Philippines. The Philippine Red Cross and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) are scaling up to help contain the highly infectious virus.

On 19 September, a three-year-old girl was diagnosed with polio, the Philippines’ first confirmed case since 2000. A five-year-old boy has since tested positive. The polio virus was also detected in Manila’s sewage and the waterways of Davao in Mindanao. Low immunization rates have contributed to the outbreak. Polio is mainly transmitted by food, water or hands contaminated with human faeces containing the virus, so good hygiene is vital.

Philippine Red Cross Chairman, Richard Gordon said:

“We have mobilized all our chapters to coordinate with the health department and local officials and to provide the full support of volunteers for mass immunization and updating the list of all zero to five-year-old children and get their vaccination status. This will help us identify the areas with the highest risk of polio based on low vaccination coverage as well as the lack of toilets and limited running water."

The IFRC has released 336,302 Swiss francs (336,700 US dollars) from its disaster relief emergency fund to support the Philippine Red Cross in Mindanao and Metro Manila to go house-to-house to vaccinate in high-risk areas including in informal settlements and hard-to-reach areas, and children who have missed out on vaccinations. Social mobilization teams and an information campaign will target 1.2 million people with messages on the importance of vaccination.

Head of the IFRC Philippines Country Office, Chris Staines said:

“We are very concerned that the resurgence of polio in the Philippines puts 11 million Filipino children under five at high risk of disability and even death. We appeal to all parents to protect their children against the virus during this massive, synchronized nationwide campaign. The Philippines has eradicated polio before, and together we can do it again.”

According to the World Health Organization, polio, which has no cure, can be prevented with multiple doses of a safe and effective vaccine. More than two billion children globally are protected against polio through these vaccinations.

This is the third health emergency this year that the Philippine Red Cross has responded to, with babies and young children disproportionately affected. During a measles outbreak in February, the Red Cross cared for 3,400 patients by setting up seven measles care units in tents outside six hospitals, vaccinated nearly 17,000 children between six months and five years of age, and reached more than 1.9 million people with life-saving information. In response to a dengue outbreak, the Red Cross cared for 5,000 patients in nine emergency medical units set up at eight hospitals, and reached 120,000 people with messages on dengue prevention and management. Philippines Red Cross volunteers continue to respond to both of these ongoing health emergencies, even as they scale up to face the urgent risks of polio.

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