Bhutan’s percentage coverage of children immunised against polio is high enough to prevent imported (transborder) wild poliovirus to circulate and to prevent the emergence of vaccine-derived poliovirus in the country.

This is according to Bhutan’s annual polio-free progress report 2018.

According to the report, Bhutan has achieved 97 percent of Inactivated Polio Vaccine (IPV) coverage. The immunisation coverage in Gasa is the lowest at 70 because of the difficulty to reach the nomadic population.

However, the report highlights that there is a need to conduct mop up campaign in the areas that have lower immunisation coverage.

The report also highlights some of the key challenges faced by Bhutan in polio surveillance. Difficulties include sample shipment, limited funding for training and monitoring activities, and hardship to reach nomadic population.

As for preparedness for timely and reliable detection of and response to poliovirus occurrence, Bhutan has a national polio outbreak preparedness and response plan in place. According to the report, there is a need to sensitise to stakeholders on responsibilities.

However, Bhutan does not have a risk assessment conducted for polio re-emergence.

Members of RCCPE from 11 countries from South-East Asian are reviewing the polio eradication programme in Paro. The two-day 11th meeting of RCCPE, which began yesterday, will conclude today.

Along with other South-East Asian regional member nations, Bhutan was certified as a polio-free country in March 2014. The 11 countries of the South-East Asia Region are Bangladesh, Bhutan, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, India, Indonesia, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Thailand.

Speaking at the meeting yesterday, health secretary Dr Ugen Dophu, said that polio in the past was a major cause of deaths and disabilities among thousands of children across the globe. In 1985, he said, there were about 400,000 cases of polio globally and that the figure now has declined to just 27 cases.

However, he said that it was important for the countries that have eradicated polio to maintain polio-free status.

In Bhutan, he said, that the polio vaccination programme was started in 1979 and that the last compatible polio case in the country was reported in 1986.

“This meeting is important to review the status of the polio eradication programmes and the capacity to take note of what has been achieved and for further endeavours to strengthen and sustain the countries’ polio-free status within the region,” the health secretary said.

Chairman of the RCCPE, Dr Supamit Chunsuttiwat, said that the meeting formed an important part of polio eradication programmes in the world. He said that all the countries that have been declared polio-free should maintain the status.

South East Asia Region has been certified polio-free since March 2014 but concerns about the risk of wild polio virus importation remains.

According to South-East Asia Regional Certification Commission for Polio Eradication (SEA-RCCPE), despite progress towards eradication in a few remaining endemic countries, in 2018 transmission of the virus has been continuing.

As of October 16, 2018, there were 20 type 1 wild poliovirus cases in two countries with 130 positive samples from environmental surveillance. At the same time, 68 polio cases due to circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus were detected in five countries.

The WHO South-East Asia Region is home to over 25 percent of the world population.

MB Subba  | Paro