Your country saw more diphtheria cases in 2007 than any other country on the planet, a recent World Health Organisation report has said.
That’s not all. At 3,354, the number of cases reported in India that year was nearly four times as many as the rest of the Top 20 list combined.
Indonesia came in a distant second, with 183 reported cases. The numbers for most of the other countries were in the single digits.
The highly infectious respiratory disease, which mainly affects children, spreads a toxin through the bloodstream that damages the heart and kidneys, leading to death, or attacks the nervous system, leading to paralysis.
Many countries have eradicated the disease altogether. As the rest move to become diphtheria-free through the mass immunisation of infants, the numbers have only climbed in India.
By 2008, the number of reported cases had nearly doubled, to 6081 — with 2,139 cases in Karnataka alone — according to the National Health Profiles released by the Central Bureau of Health Intelligence.
The number of deaths rose to 65, a whopping 32 of them in Delhi.
The Health Ministry’s response? Well, there hasn’t been one yet.
Unlike the largely successful Pulse Polio campaign, there is no dedicated programme to combat diphtheria, no department dealing exclusively with the highly infectious disease.
Diphtheria is handled under a national immunisation programme where triple-antigen DPT (Diphtheria-Pertussis-Tetanus) vaccines are given to infants. But only about 50 to 60 per cent of the babies born each year are actually immunised.
The rest grow up under the constant threat of contracting the disease.
“In 2005, the immunisation coverage in the country was 54.5 per cent,” said an official with the Health Ministry, on condition of anonymity as he is not authorised to speak to the press. “The immunisation coverage increased to 62.4 per cent in 2006.”