Health Authorities Declare Polio Virus Type 2 Outbreak As National Public Health Emergency


As two environmental samples collected from sewage sites tested positive for poliovirus

By Nelson Manneh

The Minister of Health Dr. Ahmadou Lamin Samateh has on Wednesday 18th April 2021 declared Poliovirus Type 2 outbreak a National Public Health Emergency as two environmental samples collected from sewage sites tested positive for poliovirus.

Dr. Samateh said no Acute Flaccid Paralysis (AFP) sample from The Gambia has been tested positive for polio, but two environmental samples collected from sewage sites, one from Banjul and the other from Kotu, have tested positive for poliovirus type 2. This has created a polio outbreak situation in the country since a single positive poliovirus case is considered an outbreak under the 2005 International Health Regulations, thereby requiring an urgent response to breaking transmission.

“Many other countries are already affected by this type of virus in the sub-region. Sequencing results showed that the viruses detected in The Gambia are genetically linked to other viruses detected in the sub-region such as in Guinea, Senegal, and Nigeria,” he said.

Dr. Samateh said a lot of global effort has been made towards kicking polio out of the face of this world. “In 1988, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, (GPEI), was launched to guide global efforts to eradicate polio. Since then, the annual global polio incidence has decreased by more than 99%. The Gambia last detected a polio case in 1986 and was certified as polio-free in 2004.”

Samateh said over the years, the country has achieved and maintained high polio vaccination coverage in its commitment to the global polio eradication goal. He said the country also conducted 27 high-quality supplementary immunization activities (SIAs) from 1997 to 2014 to boost immunity against polio.

These activities, he said, were carried out in the presence of a robust surveillance system to detect polio cases when they occur.

“In May 2021, with support from the World Health Organization and other partners, The Gambia initiated environmental surveillance to supplement the traditional (Acute Flaccid Paralysis – AFP) polio surveillance system

Presently, environmental samples are collected from three sites. The samples collected from the AFP cases and the environments are sent to the regional polio laboratory in Dakar for analysis.”

Dr. Samateh said it is important to note that this outbreak is evidence of poliovirus circulation within the population, but does not mean detection of polio paralysis in the population. “In line with World Health Organization recommendations, Polio outbreak response Standard Operating Procedures, and the International Health Regulations 2005, I officially declare this outbreak a National Public Health Emergency.”

He said the Ministry of Health will continue working with all relevant UN agencies and other development partners in confronting the outbreak. He added that while they plan for vaccination response shortly, they have enhanced their surveillance system to increase its sensitivity and quality in tracking polio cases in circulation.

The Minister of Health said his ministry is preparing for at least two massive supplementary polio vaccination rounds targeting 382,908 children 0-59 months in each round. He said their goal is to vaccinate all children 0-59 months in The Gambia.

Samateh said: “We implore all parents to cooperate with our vaccinators during the vaccination campaigns to enable us to end this outbreak soonest. The Gambia has one of the best immunization programs in the sub-region, thanks to caregivers for being receptive to the vaccination. Together, we have been able to defeat many vaccine-preventable diseases.”