WHO certifies 11 countries as polio-free

The United Nations World Health Organization announced on Thursday that 11 countries in Asia that host a combined quarter of Earth's population are certified as polio-free.

The announcement marks the fourth of six WHO regions to be certified polio-free and marks a step to the total eradication of polio.

"This is a momentous victory for the millions of health workers who have worked with Governments, non-governmental organizations, civil society and international partners to eradicate polio from the region," WHO Southeast Asia Regional Director Poonam Khetrapal Singh said.

To receive polio-free certification, a country must have three years of zero confirmed cases due to indigenous wild poliovirus, excellent laboratory-based surveillance, demonstrated capacity to detect, report and respond to imported polio cases, and demonstrated safe containment of polioviruses in laboratories.

"Thanks to polio eradication, we now know where these children are who were difficult to reach with vaccine," Khetrapal Singh said. "Now the polio program has successfully reached them with polio drops in every round, there is no excuse not to go back with other critical health services, from how to have a safe birth, to where to get access to tuberculosis treatment and how to prevent HIV infection."

Khetrapal Singh said that even though polio is eradicated in these countries, because it is still present in other parts of the world, they must continue to be vigilant in surveillance and vaccination programs.

"Until polio is globally eradicated, all countries are at risk and the region's polio-free status remains fragile," Khetrapal Singh said.

The countries certified as polio-free are Bangladesh, Bhutan, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, India, Indonesia, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Timor-Leste.