Surveillance to Track Progress Toward Polio Eradication — Worldwide, 2020–2021
Weekly / April 15, 2022 / 71(15);538–544
Amanda L. Wilkinson, PhD1; Ousmane M. Diop, PhD2; Jaume Jorba, PhD3; Tracie Gardner, PhD2; Cynthia J. Snider, PhD1; Jamal Ahmed, MD2 (View author affiliations)View suggested citation
What is already known about this topic
Acute flaccid paralysis (AFP) surveillance, the primary means of tracking poliovirus transmission, is supplemented by environmental surveillance of sewage samples. The COVID-19 pandemic negatively affected polio surveillance.
What is added by this report?
Analysis of 2020–2021 AFP surveillance data from 43 priority countries experiencing or at high risk for poliovirus transmission found that national AFP surveillance performance improved from 2020 to 2021 in many priority countries, particularly in the World Health Organization’s African Region; however, substantial national and subnational gaps persist.
What are the implications for public health practice?
Surveillance gaps need to be identified and addressed to ensure timely detection of poliovirus circulation and achieve eventual eradication.
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Since the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) was established in 1988, the number of reported poliomyelitis cases worldwide has declined by approximately 99.99%. By the end of 2021, wild poliovirus (WPV) remained endemic in only two countries (Pakistan and Afghanistan). However, a WPV type 1 (WPV1) case with paralysis onset in 2021, was reported by Malawi a year after the World Health Organization (WHO) African Region (AFR) was certified as WPV-free and circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus (cVDPV) cases were reported from 31 countries during 2020–2021 (1,2). cVDPVs are oral poliovirus vaccine-derived viruses that can emerge after prolonged circulation in populations with low immunity and cause paralysis. The primary means of detecting poliovirus transmission is through surveillance for acute flaccid paralysis (AFP) among persons aged <15 years, with confirmation through stool specimen testing by WHO-accredited laboratories, supplemented by systematic sampling of sewage and testing for the presence of poliovirus (environmental surveillance). The COVID-19 pandemic caused disruptions in polio vaccination and surveillance activities across WHO regions in 2020; during January–September 2020, the number of reported cases of AFP declined and the interval between stool collection and receipt by laboratories increased compared with the same period in 2019 (3). This report summarizes surveillance performance indicators for 2020 and 2021 in 43 priority countries* and updates previous reports (4). In 2021, a total of 32 (74%) priority countries† met two key surveillance performance indicator targets nationally, an improvement from 2020 when only 23 (53%) met both targets; however, substantial national and subnational gaps persist. High-performing poliovirus surveillance is critical to tracking poliovirus transmission. Frequent monitoring of surveillance indicators could help identify gaps, guide improvements, and enhance the overall sensitivity and timelines of poliovirus detection to successfully achieve polio eradication.
Two key performance indicators used to assess AFP surveillance quality are 1) the nonpolio AFP (NPAFP) rate,§ with a NPAFP rate of ≥2 per 100,000 persons aged <15 years considered sufficiently sensitive to detect circulating poliovirus, and 2) the collection of adequate stool specimens¶ from AFP patients, with a target of ≥80% stool specimen adequacy, which indicates that surveillance can effectively identify poliovirus among AFP patients. Surveillance indicators for 43 priority countries experiencing or at high risk for poliovirus transmission were reviewed (Table 1).
African Region. Among 28 priority countries in AFR, 50% met both national surveillance indicator targets in 2020 and 79% met the targets in 2021 (as of March 25, 2022). Subnational surveillance performance also improved in AFR; both surveillance indicator targets were met in 52% of first subnational administrative level areas in 2020 and 75% in 2021 (Figure). In AFR, cVDPV type 2 (cVDPV2) cases were reported from 22 countries during 2020–2021; among 525 cVDPV2 cases reported in 2021, a total of 415 (79%) were from Nigeria. One WPV1 case was detected in a child in Malawi with paralysis onset in 2021 (5), approximately 1 year after AFR was certified as WPV-free; this is the first WPV1 case reported in AFR since 2016 and the isolate is genetically linked to a WPV1 lineage last detected in Pakistan in 2019.
Eastern Mediterranean Region. Among 10 priority countries in the WHO Eastern Mediterranean Region (EMR), eight met both national surveillance indicator targets in 2020 and all but one (Djibouti with stool adequacy of 75%) met both targets in 2021. Most EMR countries performed well at the subnational level, but gaps were apparent in Djibouti. In 2020, a total of 140 WPV1 cases were detected in EMR countries (56 in Afghanistan and 84 in Pakistan), compared with five in 2021 (four in Afghanistan and one in Pakistan). Cases of cVDPV2 in EMR countries declined from 516 in 2020 to 68 in 2021, and cVDPV1 cases declined from 31 in 2020 to three in 2021 (all from Yemen).
European Region. In the WHO European Region (EUR), surveillance performance was assessed in Tajikistan and Ukraine. In 2020 and 2021, Tajikistan met both national indicators, whereas Ukraine met only the stool adequacy target. In Tajikistan, the proportion of the population living in areas that met both indicators increased significantly from 2020 to 2021.
South-East Asia Region. Surveillance performance was assessed in the WHO South-East Asia Region (SEAR), country of Burma (Myanmar),** which met the national stool adequacy target (86.0% and 84.8%, respectively) in both 2020 and 2021, but not the NPAFP rate target (1.3 and 0.2 per 100,000 persons aged <15 years, respectively). Subnational surveillance performance was poor in both years and none of the subnational areas met both surveillance indicator targets in 2021.
Western Pacific Region. In the WHO Western Pacific Region (WPR), surveillance performance was assessed in Papua New Guinea and the Philippines. In 2020 and 2021, the Philippines met the NPAFP rate indicator, and Papua New Guinea did not meet either of the surveillance indicators. None of the subnational areas in Papua New Guinea met the indicator targets in either year; in the Philippines, 20.5% of the population lived in subnational areas in which both surveillance indicators were met in 2021 (Figure). One cVDPV2 case was reported from the Philippines in 2020, but none in 2021.
Genomic sequence analysis identified 43 cVDPV emergence groups globally in active transmission from AFP cases during 2020–2021. These included 30 cVDPV2 and four cVDPV1 emergences in 27 countries in 2020 and 24 cVDPV emergence groups (20 cVDPV2 and 4 cVDPV1) in 22 countries in 2021.
Poliovirus environmental surveillance is the systematic collection and testing of sewage specimens to identify poliovirus circulation. Because paralysis occurs in <1% of poliovirus infections, environmental surveillance can detect poliovirus circulation even in the absence of confirmed paralytic polio cases (6). During 2020–2021, cVDPV2 was detected by environmental surveillance before identification of a confirmed AFP case in Afghanistan, Liberia, and Senegal, and by environmental surveillance only in Djibouti, Egypt, Gambia, Iran, Mauritania, and Uganda.
In Nigeria, the number of cVDPV2-positive environmental surveillance samples increased from five samples collected from two sites in 2020 to 299 samples collected from 77 sites in 2021. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, the number of cVDPV2-positive samples declined from 310 across 65 sites in 2020 (56% from Afghanistan) to 75 across 30 sites in 2021 (53% from Afghanistan). During 2020–2021, 27 cVDPV emergence groups (24 cVDPV2 and three cVDPV1) were detected in sewage samples collected in 32 countries, including 22 (69%) from AFR, seven (22%) from EMR, two (6%) from WPR, and one (3%) from EUR.
In Afghanistan, WPV1 was isolated from only one environmental surveillance sample in 2021 compared with 35 samples from 15 sites in 2020 (7). In Pakistan, WPV1-positive samples also declined from 434 across 67 sites in 2020 to 65 across 34 sites in 2021 (8).
The WHO Global Polio Laboratory Network (GPLN) comprises 145 quality-assured poliovirus laboratories in the six WHO regions. GPLN laboratories implement standardized protocols to 1) isolate polioviruses (all laboratories); 2) conduct intratypic differentiation (ITD) to distinguish between WPV, Sabin (oral poliovirus vaccine) virus, and VDPV (134 laboratories); and 3) conduct genomic sequencing (28 laboratories). Poliovirus transmission pathways are monitored through sequence analysis of the viral protein 1 (VP1) capsid protein from virus isolates. The accuracy and quality of testing at GPLN laboratories are monitored through a comprehensive standardized quality assurance program of onsite reviews and proficiency testing (9). A different accreditation checklist with separate timeliness indicators is used for laboratories that conduct environmental surveillance.
GPLN tested 147,582 stool specimens in 2020 and 170,881 in 2021 (Table 2); cVDPVs were isolated from 1,067 AFP cases in 2020 and from 659 in 2021. From 2020 to 2021, the number of cVDPV isolates decreased from 530 to 521 in AFR, from 533 to 70 in EMR, and from two to zero in WPR; the number increased from two to 68 in EUR and was zero for both years in SEAR. During both 2020 and 2021, GPLN laboratories in all regions met the overall timeliness for onset to ITD results (80% of specimens within 60 days), and all but EUR in 2021 met the timeliness indicators for poliovirus isolation (80% of specimens within 14 days), 79% on time.
Since 2017, the WPV1 South Asia genotype is the only WPV1 genotype that has been detected globally. Orphan isolates (isolates with ≤98.5% genetic identity in the VP1 capsid region, compared with other isolates) accounted for 18 of 140 (13%) WPV1 isolates from AFP patients in 2020 and two of six (33%) in 2021.
All priority countries faced setbacks in surveillance performance in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic and associated risk mitigation measures (3); in 2021, AFP surveillance performance indicators rebounded in many countries. Several AFR countries’ subnational performance on surveillance indicators in 2021 improved compared with their prepandemic performance in 2019, including Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Niger (4). Subnational surveillance gaps were apparent among one or more priority countries in each WHO region that included a priority country. Although WPV1 cases significantly declined in 2021, the recent detection of a WPV1 case in Malawi demonstrates that all countries remain at risk for WPV1 until global transmission is interrupted and underscores the critical importance of maintaining sensitive poliovirus surveillance in all countries, even those considered to be at low risk. An updated Global Polio Surveillance Action Plan for 2022–2024 was developed to guide and monitor surveillance system improvements at all levels of the GPEI (10); the plan is applicable globally but focuses on 30 priority countries.
The findings in this report are subject to at least three limitations. First, issues related to security and hard-to-access populations could affect AFP surveillance and limit interpretation of surveillance indicators. Second, high NPAFP rates do not necessarily indicate highly sensitive surveillance because not all reported AFP cases might meet the case definition, some actual AFP cases might go undetected, and background NPAFP rates might vary. Finally, the accuracy of stool specimen adequacy depends on whether the field investigator can elicit an accurate paralysis onset date.
High-quality surveillance is critical to reaching the milestone of global polio eradication and includes timely and effective AFP case detection, notification, and investigation; specimen transport; and laboratory testing. Frequent monitoring of surveillance indicators could help identify gaps, guide improvements, and enhance the overall sensitivity and timelines of poliovirus detection to successfully achieve polio eradication.
The Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI); The Global Polio Laboratory Network; Data and Information Management Network; Elizabeth Henderson, Polio and Picornavirus Laboratory Branch, Division of Viral Diseases, National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, CDC; Humayun Asghar, Tigran Avagyan, Ana Chevez, Varja Grabovac, Nicksy Gumede, Anfumbom K. W. Kfutwah, Shahin Huseynov, Sudhir Joshi, Muhammad Obaid-ul Butt, Gloria Rey-Benito, Lucky Sangal, Eugene Saxentoff, Johnson Muluh Ticha, Abhijeet Anand, Claire Chauvin, SM Moazzem Hossain, Jeevan K. Makam, Steve Oberste, Mark Pallansch, Tim Petersen, Kimberly Porter, Kathleen Rankin, Jenna Webeck, other GPEI surveillance group members.
Corresponding author: Amanda L. Wilkinson, email@example.com, 678-428-2822.
1Global Immunization Division, Center for Global Health, CDC; 2Polio Eradication, Director General’s Office, World Health Organization, Geneva Switzerland; 3Division of Viral Diseases, National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, CDC.
All authors have completed and submitted the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors form for disclosure of potential conflicts of interest. No potential conflicts of interest were disclosed.
* Countries selected for this 2020–2021 report were identified as priority countries in the WHO Global Polio Surveillance Action Plan (GPSAP), 2022–2024 because of persistent surveillance gaps and susceptibility to poliovirus transmission or had ≥1 WPV1 or cVDPV isolates detected from AFP or environmental surveillance in 2021 (https://polioeradication.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/GPSAP_2022-2024.pdfpdf iconexternal icon ). Note: In 2022, VDPV3 was isolated from an AFP case and genetically linked to VDPV3 strains isolated from environmental samples collected in Israel and the Palestinian Territories in 2021–2022 (https://www.euro.who.int/en/countries/israel/news/news/2022/3/circulating-vaccine-derived-poliovirus-confirmed-in-israelexternal icon); the emergence was confirmed as cVDPV3 in March 2022; surveillance performance in these geographies are not included in this report.
† 2021 priority countries (30 GPSAP priority countries indicated by [G]): African Region: Angola (G), Benin (G), Burkina Faso (G), Cameroon (G), Central African Republic (G), Chad (G), Congo, Côte d’Ivoire (G), Democratic Republic of the Congo (G), Equatorial Guinea (G), Ethiopia (G), Gambia, Guinea (G), Guinea-Bissau (G), Kenya (G), Liberia, Madagascar (G), Malawi, Mali (G), Mauritania, Mozambique (G), Niger (G), Nigeria (G), Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Sudan (G), Togo (G), and Uganda; Eastern Mediterranean Region: Afghanistan (G), Djibouti, Egypt, Iran, Iraq (G), Pakistan (G), Somalia (G), Sudan (G), Syria (G), and Yemen (G); European Region: Tajikistan and Ukraine; South-East Asia Region: Burma (Myanmar) (G); Western Pacific Region: Papua New Guinea (G) and the Philippines (G).
§ The number of NPAFP cases per 100,000 persons aged <15 years per year.
¶ Two stool specimens collected ≥24 hours apart and within 14 days of paralysis onset, and arrival at a WHO-accredited laboratory by reverse cold chain (storing and transporting samples at recommended temperatures from the point of collection to the laboratory) and in good condition (i.e., without leakage or desiccation).
** MMWR uses the U.S. Department of State’s short-form name “Burma”; WHO uses “Myanmar.”
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FIGURE. Combined performance indicators for the quality of acute flaccid paralysis surveillance* in subnational areas of 43 priority countries — World Health Organization African, Eastern Mediterranean, South-East Asia, and Western Pacific regions, 2021
Abbreviations: AFP = acute flaccid paralysis; NPAFP = nonpolio acute flaccid paralysis; WHO = World Health Organization.
* Targets: ≥2 NPAFP cases per 100,000 persons aged <15 years per year and ≥80% of persons with AFP having two stool specimens collected ≥24 hours apart and within 14 days of paralysis onset, and arrival at a WHO-accredited laboratory by reverse cold chain (storing and transporting samples at recommended temperatures from the point of collection to the laboratory) and in good condition (i.e., without leakage or desiccation).
Suggested citation for this article: Wilkinson AL, Diop OM, Jorba J, Gardner T, Snider CJ, Ahmed J. Surveillance to Track Progress Toward Polio Eradication — Worldwide, 2020–2021. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2022;71:538–544. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm7115a2external icon.
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