The WHO regional office in New Delhi stamped the region as polio-free on Thursday.
It was a ‘public health milestone’ for the region, Prof Mahmudur Rahman, a member of the regional certification committee present at the time of the announcement in New Delhi, told bdnews24.com.
WHO’s Southeast Asia region comprises Bangladesh, Bhutan, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, India, Indonesia, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Timor-Leste.
Health ministers of these countries or their deputies were present at the time of the announcement.
Junior minister for health Zahid Maleque represented Bangladesh.
The polio-free tag for the region came after all the 11 countries reported zero incidence of the disease for three consecutive years.
This is the fourth of the WHO’s six worldwide regional zones to become free of polio. Eighty percent of the world’s population now lives in certified polio-free regions.
WHO says the milestone has been achieved due to a strong immunisation campaign.
Bangladesh recorded 18 polio cases in 2006, according to the EPI that oversees immunisation, attributing them to viral contamination from India.
Before 2006, Bangladesh reported one polio case in 2000, 29 cases in 1999, 10 in 1998, five in 1997, and 16 in 1996.
Bangladesh has earned accolades for its routine immunisation coverage. It also conducts special campaigns twice a year. It is not certain, however, whether that will now end in view of the region being been declared polio-free.
Dr Jayantha Liyanage, a WHO medical officer in the immunisation and vaccine division, told bdnews24.com that country committees would decide the fate of the special campaigns.
“The decision would be made based on the percentage of routine immunisation coverage, and the threat in the neighbouring countries,” he had said earlier.
If the coverage was high and the neighbouring countries posed no threat of relapse, the special campaign might be stopped, he said, adding that it might still be needed in some specific pockets. "But the decision will be taken by an expert committee,” he said.
Dr Thushara Fernando, WHO representative in Bangladesh, had earlier told bdnews24.com that the region should continue polio vaccination even if certified polio-free since their neighbours were not yet free of the virus.
But he said polio management in the region would certainly undergo some changes in the light of the certification.
America region has been certified polio-free in 1994 while Western Pacific in 2000 and Europe in 2002. The 41st World Health Assembly in 1988 has adopted a resolution for the worldwide eradication of polio.