India wins battle against dreaded polio

India wins battle against dreaded polio

India has won its prolonged battle against the dreaded polio disease and inched closer to winning the war as well.

File PhotoOn Saturday, Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad made an announcement here on the World Health Organisation (WHO)’s decision to remove India from the list of polio endemic countries. The government is learnt to have received a communication from the WHO regarding this milestone on Friday.

The world health body’s move to take India off the list was taken on the basis of the fact that there was not a single reported case of polio in the country in the last one year––a remarkable feat––given the fact that for decades the country has been the world’s biggest hub of polio virus transmission. The last polio case was reported on January 13, 2011, in West Bengal.

“The WHO has taken India's name off the list of polio endemic countries in view of the remarkable progress that we have made during the past one year,” Azad told a two-day “Polio Summit 2012” here amid thunderous applause.

From 1,50,000 cases in 1985, the reported polio cases in the country have registered significant decline over the years in view of the war against the disease. The reported cases declined to 741 in 2009 and just 42 in 2010.

With its removal from the polio endemic countries’ list, which now has only three countries left—Pakistan, Afgha­nistan and Nigeria—India will have to remain polio-free for two more years in succession to win the war against the disease. The WHO will certify India polio-free if it remains free of any reported case of polio for another two years.  

“We have won the battle but the war is not yet over,” Azad said underscoring the importance of continuing with sustained polio vaccination campaign for the next two years before India becomes eligible to apply for a Polio-Free certificate from the WHO. Importation from neighbouring Pakistan now remains the single biggest threat that can be countered by improving the routine immunisation level, said Bruce Aylward, WHO assistant director general.

Setting up vaccination camps on the border posts at Wagah, Attari and Munabao probably helped but routine immunisation had to improve a lot, he said.

Among the challenges that lie ahead is a funding gap of one billion dollars  for he eradication programme, said Aylward. Private partners like Rotary International and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation were providing financial support to the best of their ability.

“We will approach G8 countries to raise their funding support from the existing level of 14 per cent to 30-40 per cent. But it will be tough in the current economic situation,” he added. On an average India provides 60 per cent routine immunisation to children and even less in some pockets. “Our ultimate objective is to achieve full immunisation of all our children. We must ensure that every Indian child, rich or poor, whether living in Ladakh or in Delhi has equal access to the best immunisation,” said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh while inaugurating the summit.

The prime minister praised the 23 lakh volunteers who vaccinated children even in the most remote areas often in very bad weather conditions during past several years’ of the sustained campaign against polio. The volunteers bridged the last-mile gap to ensure not a single child was left out of the polio rounds, he said.

* After small pox, polio is the second disease targeted by WHO for global eradication
* Global polio eradication initiative launched in 1988
* India launched Pulse polio campaign in 1995
* Polio cases reduced by 99 per cent in the world since 1988
* Only Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria have the wild polio virus in circulation
* No case in India reported in the last one year
* Pulse polio drive to continue for two more years in India before it gets the polio-free status