Status of Polio in Australia
Australia, along with the Western Pacific Region, was declared polio-free in 2000. Australia has an excellent record of polio control with the last case of poliomyelitis caused by a locally acquired wild poliovirus in Australia reported in 1972 and last imported case of wild poliovirus reported in 2007.
In 2019, Australia conducted a national poliovirus reintroduction and outbreak risk assessment to comprehensively characterise the risk posed by wild-type and vaccine-derived polioviruses to national health security. The risk assessment concluded that as at January 2019, the risk of wild-type poliovirus or vaccine-derived poliovirus reintroduction, resultant outbreaks of poliovirus infection, and sustained transmission occurring in Australia in the next five years (2019–2023) is very low.
Until poliovirus is eradicated, it remains in Australia’s strategic health security interest to maintain appropriate investment in the prevention, preparedness, surveillance and response capability which underpins the very low level of risk. Use of a structured, transparent and reproducible methodology simplifies completion of future assessments, generates evidence for targeted investment, and provides a framework to support other countries to evaluate their poliovirus risk.
The risk assessment methodology and a Microsoft Excel-based tool for calculating risk are available below:
A poliovirus reintroduction and outbreak risk assessment methodology for Australia
A Microsoft Excel-based tool allows automated calculation and display of risk assessment results as a semi-quantitative risk characterisation estimate
Health professionals are reminded to be vigilant for signs of poliovirus infection, including acute flaccid paralysis (AFP), and to notify their state or territory Department of Health and the National Enterovirus Reference Laboratory (NERL) immediately on suspicion of poliovirus infection.
Polio surveillance in Australia
Poliovirus infections are nationally notifiable in Australia and are reported to the Australian Government Department Health through the National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System.
The Australian Government Department of Health funds the Australia Poliovirus Surveillance Program. This program conducts surveillance for polioviruses to detect imported cases, mitigate the risk of localised transmission after importation and provide ongoing evidence that Australia is maintaining its polio-free status in accordance with the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended standards.
The program is coordinated by the NERL and includes the surveillance of AFP, human enteroviruses and environmental surveillance.
Annual reports for the Australian Poliovirus Surveillance Program can be found on the Polio - Australian National Enterovirus Reference Laboratory annual reports page.
As part of Australia’s commitment to the global eradications of polio, Australia submits an Annual Country Report detailing polio surveillance activities in Australia to the WHO Regional Commission for the Certification of Poliomyelitis Eradication in the Western Pacific Region (RCC) Meeting report summaries of the RCC can be found on the WHO website.
Response to an importation of polio viruses in Australia
Australia maintains a polio response plan, Poliovirus Infection Outbreak Response Plan for Australia. Under this plan, a single case of poliomyelitis in Australia is considered a public health emergency and would activate the plan. Further Information can be found on the Poliovirus Infection Outbreak Response Plan for Australia page.
Global and Regional Polio Surveillance
The WHO Public Health Emergence of International Concern- international spread of poliovirus
On Monday 5 May 2014, the WHO Director General (DG) declared the international spread of wild poliovirus a “public health emergency of international concern” (PHEIC) and issued Temporary Recommendations under the International Health Regulations (2005). On 10 November 2015, the WHO extended the PHEIC to include circulating vaccine derived poliovirus. The Temporary Recommendations are reviewed approximately every 3 months. The current recommendations are available on the WHO website.
The current list of polio infected counties is available on the Global Polio Eradication Initiative website.
The Global Polio Eradication Initiative
The Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) has made significant progress in eliminating poliomyelitis since its inception in 1988. Since the programme began more than 2.5 billion children have been immunised against polio and the global incidence of polio cases has decreased by 99%. GPEI provides up to date information on current polio cases worldwide.
Poliovirus surveillance on the Western Pacific Region
The performance of AFP surveillance (including quality of laboratory testing) and incidence of poliomyelitis tables for each country on the WHO Western Pacific Region is published on a bi-weekly basis. These are available at the Poliomyelitis Surveillance Bulletin.