National polio response framework launched, amid heightened global risk

Manatū Hauora has published a new National Poliomyelitis Response Framework, responding to the increased risk of poliovirus globally.

In November 2022, WHO advised of an increase in polio activity in areas which have previously seen polio eradicated. This is partly because of global decline in immunisation rates, including in New Zealand.

National Director of Public Health, Dr Nicholas Jones, says Aotearoa continues to be polio-free and remains committed to preventing polio circulating in Aotearoa.

‘Although the risk remains low, the global situation means there is an increased risk that polio may return to New Zealand. Current vaccination rates in New Zealand mean, if polio does return, there is an increased risk it will spread,’ Dr Jones says.

‘The framework gives the health system a toolkit for how we would respond to various scenarios in which there was detection of polio, including a polio outbreak.’

The National Poliomyelitis Response framework was developed by Te Pou Hauora Tūmatanui- the Public Health Agency, within Manatū Hauora, in collaboration with Te Whatu Ora – the National Public Health Service,Te Aka Whai Ora, Environmental Science and Research (ESR) and Whaikaha. It is one of several measures recently developed to prepare for a polio outbreak. Others includes the introduction of wastewater surveillance testing for poliovirus, and updated guidance for public health services in the polio chapter of Te Whatu Ora’s Communicable Disease Control Manual.

Te Whatu Ora – National Public Health Service Clinical Lead, Dr William Rainger, says because New Zealand hasn’t had a wild polio case since 1977, many clinicians and public health services are unfamiliar with the disease.

‘The updated Communicable Disease Control Manaul chapter of polio provides clinicians and other health professionals with the detailed technical guidance they need to identify, manage and respond to a polio case. Along with the framework, it puts New Zealand in a stronger position to respond if there was a polio detection or outbreak here,’ Dr Rainger says.

Dr Jones says there is no cure for polio disease and for some people it can be debilitating and even fatal. People who survive can be left with lifelong disability and other complications.

‘Vaccination against poliovirus is very effective, and dramatically reduces the risk from polio. It prevents severe disease and can prevent paralysis.’

In New Zealand, children are immunised against 13 preventable diseases, including polio, whooping cough, chickenpox and measles. These immunisations are free for babies, children, and adolescents.

If you or your child have not been fully immunised, or you are unsure, please contact your usual healthcare provider.

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