The World Health Organization (WHO) on Friday announced the end of the polio outbreak in the Philippines, almost two years after the debilitating disease reemerged in the Southeast Asian country. 

“We are formally celebrating the end of the polio outbreak that has affected the Philippines for more than 600 days,” WHO representative to Manila Rabindra Abeyasinghe said at a televised news briefing organized by the Department of Health. 

The end of the polio outbreak proves that collective efforts can strengthen public health amid the coronavirus pandemic, he said. 

Mr. Abeyasinghe said this latest milestone in public health proves that vaccines work. 

In an e-mailed statement, Mr. Abeyasighe said the decision to proclaim the country polio-free came “as the virus has not been detected in a child or in the environment” in the past 16 months. This a result of comprehensive outbreak response actions including intensified immunization and surveillance activities in affected areas, he added. 

Children under the age of five are most vulnerable to polio, a highly infectious and sometimes fatal disease that can be avoided with a vaccine, according to the WHO.  

Philippine health authorities announced a polio outbreak in September 2019, after almost two decades of being polio-free. 

The WHO said the disease remains endemic in Afghanistan and Pakistan. 

“The success of the polio immunization in the Philippines is proof that when we come together for children, great things happen,” UNICEF representative to the Philippines Oyunsaikhan Dendevnorov said in an e-mailed statement. 

Mr. Dendevnorov urged the Philippine government to “keep the momentum and accelerate routine immunization and safeguard essential child health services” while rolling out coronavirus vaccines for priority sectors. — Kyle Aristophere Atienza