Polio-free India has to stem spread of virus: WHO

Third disease eradicated after smallpox and rinderpest

Polio-free India has to stem spread of virus: WHO

India remained polio free for the third consecutive year. It made the country eligible for the World Health Organisation’s polio elimination certificate, which may be handed over to the government next month.

After smallpox and rinderpest in cattle, polio became the third major disease that was wiped out of India after spending thousands of crores of rupees and two decades of efforts by a battery of 23 lakh public health workers, who ensured that children did not miss out on the life-saving drops.

Rukhsar Kahtun, a girl from the Howrah district of West Bengal was India’s last wild polio case, which was confirmed on January 13, 2011.

In the 1970s and 80s, every year, about two to four lakh children developed polio, which used to kill several hundreds of them. The number came down to 265 in 2000 and 42 in 2010 after the Centre gave the polio eradication programme a firm push in the 1990s. 

“Since 1995, we have spent more than Rs 12,000 crore on polio eradication, often spending in excess of Rs 1,000 crore in a year on polio,” said Anuradha Gupta, additional secretary in the Health Ministry.

The crippling disease with a significant toll is now endemic only in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria. But polio virus, mostly imported from these three nations, were found in five other African nations, including Somalia, where 183 polio cases were reported in 2013, out of the global total of 355 .

“For India, maintaining very high routine immunisation coverage, continuing campaigns to close any gaps in coverage and ensuring excellent surveillance to detect and rapidly respond to any importations are the three major challenges,” Bruce Aylward, deputy director general of World Health Organisation, who is in charge of the global polio eradication programme, told Deccan Herald.

India maintains a network of 38,000 reporting sites to check the presence of polio virus in sewage. 

Travel advisories were issued for all polio-endemic countries to prevent importation.
 Continuous polio immunisation posts have been set up along international borders with Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Bhutan. Initiated in 2011, the number of posts has grown to 102 in 2013 with nearly 4.2 million children immunised at these posts in two years. 

The Union Health Ministry will hold two celebratory events. The first one will be on January 19 at Rashtrapati Bhwan to launch the national immunisation day when 17 crore children will be vaccinated.

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