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India tops polio list

delhi Updated: Jan 09, 2010 01:45 IST
Sanchita Sharma

Polio continues to cripple. India recorded 703 cases in 2009 — the highest in the world. It also means that almost half the world’s 1,548 victims are Indians.

In 2008, Nigeria with 798 cases recorded the highest numbers, followed by India’s 559. Nigeria halved the figure to 388 in 2009.

India, however, did not export the virus to any other countries. “In 2008, there was cross-border transmission into Nepal and long-distance importation into Angola,” said Dr Hamid Jafari, project manager, World Health Organisation-National Polio Surveillance Project.

Uttar Pradesh and Bihar continue account for over 97 per cent of the numbers. UP reported 571 cases, Bihar 114.

Polio (poliomyelitis) is a crippling disease caused by a virus that invades the nervous system through the mouth (faecal-oral route) and causes paralysis within hours. It affects children under 5.

Though the numbers were up, India was moving towards eradication, said Jafari. The geographic scope of types 1 and 3 was narrowed further in 2009. In 2008, type 1 cases were reported from eight states and type 3 from 10. Six states reported the two virus types in 2009.

The problem, say experts, is not with the notational programme, as the quality of the immunisation campaign is high.

“Over 95 per cent children are immunised. It is the high birth rate — half a million babies born in UP and Bihar every month — malnutrition and poor sanitation conditions that prevent a child from building immunity that help transmission,” said a health ministry official.

Fatigue is setting in. Every child in the two states has to be immunised repeatedly. Around 172 million children are expected to be immunised on National Immunisation Day on January 9.

The Centre is introducing bivalent oral polio vaccine — effective against types 1 and 3. Type 2 has been eradicated.

“Targeted use of the bivalent vaccine — bOPV — will accelerate control of type 3 polio while ensuring that immunity to type 1 virus is maintained… to terminate its transmission,” said Jafari. After the type 1 virus transmission stops, the focus will be on type 3, he said.