Over half of the world’s polio cases are in India, which now has 367 of the world’s 707 cases. Nigeria, which consistently had the most polio cases since 2002, slipped to second position with 226 cases. In 2006, India’s polio tally of 676 cases was almost half of Nigeria’s 1,125.
Polio from India caused outbreaks in countries such as Angola, Namibia and Nepal last year, with neighbouring Myanmar reporting 11 cases after seven years in 2007. Sri Lanka is now asking all travelers to India to get vaccinated against polio two weeks before departure.
Apart from India and Nigeria, the only two other countries with endemic wild polio virus are Pakistan and Afghanistan. Polio cases reported in other countries across the world are all “importations” from these four nations, which account for 622 of the world’s 707 cases.
The polio eradication campaign in India is being closely tracked by the global health community after the 2006 outbreak that pushed up numbers to 676 cases — a tenfold jump over 2005 and a third of the world’s total. Poor immunisation coverage in western Uttar Pradesh in 2005-early 2006 has been the biggest setback to India’s Rs 1,300 crore eradication programme, which has been missing its target since 2000.
Experts say the eradication campaign is back on track. “India as managed to contain the more deadly type 1 polio, which spreads faster and causes paralysis more often than type 3, which is easier to contain,” says Deepak Kapur, chairman, India Polio Committee, Rotary International. This year, 82 per cent of the polio in India has been caused by type 3 polio.
Ten new cases were reported last week, eight in Bihar and two in Uttar Pradesh. “No cases of the more dangerous type 1 strain have been reported in eight weeks in western Uttar Pradesh, the epicentre of last year’s outbreak,” says Kapur. Type 2 was eradicated from India in 1999.
Children need repeated rounds of oral polio vaccine till the age of five to build up immunity to the disease. Migration, ignorance and rumours that the polio vaccine was a form of sterilisation were the major reasons why many poor couples kept their children hidden while the rest of the country got them vaccinated.