The Health Ministry and WHO have begun environmental poliovirus surveillance to bolster Iraq’s statewide system. Environmental poliovirus monitoring will augment severe flaccid paralysis (AFP) monitoring to ensure early identification of polioviruses in individuals and the environment.

Dr. Ahmed Zouiten, the WHO Delegate in Iraq, called environmental surveillance a milestone in polio surveillance. Keeping Iraq polio-free requires thorough and ongoing environmental monitoring.

“This is just the beginning of our environmental monitoring efforts in Iraq. We want to expand monitoring sites in high-risk regions, particularly religious mass gathering sites like Karbala and Najaf and Basra and Erbil, he added.

In the absence of AFP instances, wild poliovirus cases have already been discovered. Environmental surveillance can monitor vaccine-derived poliovirus (cVDPV2). Environmental surveillance is used to track intestinal virus circulation and assess pandemic poliovirus proliferation in a community.

In conjunction with the Health Ministry and Iraq’s Polio Laboratory, the World Health Organization renovated the facility and purchased equipment, kits, and reagents. Before launching environmental surveillance, WHO trained on sewage sample collection and monitoring for effective collection and delivery.

WHO has also provided 10-day on—job teaching for personnel on laboratory procedures for isolating poliovirus from sewage samples and best practices for storage, testing, interpreting results, and data reporting. The training includes evaluating new samples from one of the 2 designated locations in Baghdad, biosafety procedures, and waste management microscopic examination.

This was a component of the National Polio Outbreak Plan. Dr. Firas Al-Khafaji, said it’s vital to detect vaccine-derived poliovirus circulation and/or wild poliovirus importation.

Since 2014, when 2 incidences of wild poliovirus were verified, Iraq has so far been devoid of vaccine-derived and wild polioviruses. Due to considerable local and global population movement, low regular vaccination coverage, and restricted access in some places, Iraq is at high risk for WPV or VDPV importation.

The Ministry of Health and WHO launched a multiyear strategy to immunize every child through regular vaccination and additional methods, along with the National Basic Health Services Package and extra immunization efforts.

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