Iraq Declared Polio-Free in January 2024: WHO

OV Desk
4 Min Read

1 April 2024 – In January 2024, Iraq accomplished a significant milestone by completing the polio transition process, becoming the inaugural country among the polio transition priority nations to achieve this noteworthy feat.

The polio transition initiative involves repurposing polio-related assets, such as knowledge, networks, and infrastructure, to bolster the broader public health functions of a country, thereby reinforcing the national health system. These extended functions encompass immunization, surveillance of vaccine-preventable diseases, and preparedness and response to emergencies.

A crucial aspect of safeguarding polio essential functions is to ensure sustainable resources, necessitating a shift from external to domestic financing to achieve full transition. Consequently, the successful integration and maintenance of polio assets to fortify routine immunization, disease surveillance, and outbreak response yield substantial social and economic benefits, offering a high return on investment.

Dr. Hanan Balkhy, WHO Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean, lauded Iraq’s achievement in the realm of public health, acknowledging the positive impact it will have on healthcare resilience and the ability to serve the Iraqi population effectively. This accomplishment signifies a significant step forward in maximizing the utilization of polio program assets.

Iraq’s successful transition and integration of polio assets into the national health system will ensure sustained funding for polio-essential functions through domestic financing, thereby preserving the country’s polio-free status.

Dr. Rana Hajjeh, Director of Programme Management at the WHO Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean, emphasized the broader implications of Iraq’s achievement, indicating its potential to serve as a model for the six other priority countries in the region. This success contributes significantly to the ongoing global efforts to maintain a polio-free status worldwide following the eradication of the poliovirus.

Polio transition Process

In 2019, Iraq embarked on the polio transition process through collaborative efforts between the Iraqi Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization (WHO). Since then, Iraq has diligently worked to integrate essential polio functions into its healthcare system. To facilitate a seamless transition, 40 health workers at the central level and an additional 360 at the subnational level underwent training to support these functions along with broader health priorities.

Dr. Georges Ki-Zerbo, WHO Representative and Head of Mission in Iraq, marked the occasion as a historic milestone, noting Iraq’s status as the first country globally to complete the full polio transition process. He highlighted the successful integration of key polio functions into Iraq’s health system since 2019, attributing this accomplishment to the robust collaboration between the Ministry of Health and the WHO Country Office in Iraq, with support from the WHO Regional Office and the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. Dr. Ki-Zerbo emphasized that this achievement demonstrates Iraq’s commitment to sustainable health systems and underscores the value of repurposing polio assets to strengthen broader public health functions.

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