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Polio outbreak in Ukraine declared successfully eradicated in the face of war

21 September 2023

The collaboration between the Ministry of Health, WHO, UNICEF, Rotary International and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has led to the successful containment of the polio outbreak in Ukraine.

The WHO Regional Office for Europe has declared the polio outbreak in Ukraine, detected in October 2021, officially over. The comprehensive approach to the outbreak response initiated by the Ministry of Health of Ukraine in December 2021 has successfully stopped the transmission of the virus and prevented its spread to other countries.

In December 2021, the Ministry of Health approved an action plan for the accelerated immunization of children aged 6 months to 6 years who were not vaccinated during routine immunization.

“The Ministry of Health of Ukraine declared the imported polio virus a local public health emergency and acted quickly from the moment it was detected in close coordination with the global health community,” said Viktor Liashko, Minister of Health of Ukraine.

The end of the outbreak is based on recommendations from the Poliovirus Outbreak Response Assessment (OBRA) conducted by Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) partners, including WHO and UNICEF, in May this year, as well as data provided by Ukraine on ongoing surveillance, immunization and communication, and a comprehensive review of the effectiveness of polio virus surveillance and vaccination in countries hosting most Ukrainian refugees.

“Halting the spread of the poliovirus in the midst of an ongoing war is an extraordinary achievement that illustrates the commitment of the Ukrainian authorities to the well-being of the population,” said Jarno Habicht, Head of the WHO Country Office in Ukraine. “WHO, UNICEF and other GPEI partners have supported Ukraine’s health authorities, healthcare workers, laboratory staff and communities from day one to prevent the spread of this virus. The excellent cooperation and perseverance of local and international teams under difficult circumstances helped save the lives of Ukrainian children and protect their future from this paralyzing disease.”

The discovery of poliovirus in Ukraine in October 2021 led to the establishment of a response and technical support working group of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) and WHO experts, as well as an immediate epidemiological investigation, including contact tracing and environmental sampling in the areas where the virus was detected.

“Since the beginning of the polio outbreak in Ukraine in 2021, UNICEF has been delivering polio vaccines to children and conducting information campaigns on the need for vaccination,” says Veera Mendonca, Deputy Representative of UNICEF Ukraine. “In 2023 alone, UNICEF delivered 890,000 doses of bivalent oral polio vaccine and inactivated polio vaccine as part of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. We are extremely pleased to see that this nationwide catch-up vaccination campaign, in which UNICEF has joined forces with partners, has yielded such excellent results. It is a significant achievement, especially given the ongoing war and the large number of internally displaced people, that together we have been able to mitigate the impact of this dangerous disease.”

The response to the outbreak was accompanied by numerous challenges after the start of russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. The ongoing war has reduced the pace and scale of the massive catch-up vaccination campaign, caused massive population displacement, and led to the destruction of healthcare infrastructure and disruption of logistics routes for medical supplies. Despite the challenges, GPEI partners continued to provide technical and other support to improve routine immunization services, disease surveillance, communications, and transportation of samples to reference laboratories abroad.

“The success in ending the polio outbreak in the midst of an ongoing war deserves recognition and commendation, and we congratulate the Ukrainian health community. The CDC, along with other partners, continues to support countries with polio outbreaks until we achieve global polio eradication,” said Ezra Barzilay, CDC Country Director for Ukraine.

The end of the outbreak is in line with the recommendations of the comprehensive outbreak assessment conducted by partners of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) and the European Regional Commission for Polio Eradication Certification.

“The outbreak has now been eliminated, but our work to prevent polio and other vaccine-preventable diseases in Ukraine continues. As long as polio remains a threat globally, Ukraine will remain vulnerable, so the Ministry of Health continues to strengthen surveillance for vaccine-preventable diseases and works to expand routine immunization coverage across the country to protect every child,” summarized Minister of Health of Ukraine Viktor Liashko.

It should be recalled that you can learn more about polio and vaccination against it in a separate section of the website.