Even as India celebrates victory over polio, the threat of re-infection looms large.
“India is still under threat and can’t get complacent about its polio-free status as long as cases are still being reported from other countries. The biggest threat of cross-country transmission is from its neighbours -- Pakistan and Afghanistan etc -- where polio cases are still being reported,” said Louis-Georges Arsenault, UNICEF India Country Representative.
Of the nine polio cases reported in 2014, seven are in Pakistan and two in Afghanistan. With effect from March 1, India has made polio vaccination mandatory for people travelling to or from the seven polio endemic countries including Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria. Polio drops have to be taken four weeks before travel.
Some designated hospitals are still confused about how to begin. “We got a letter from Delhi government last week about the new directive, but since our hospital comes under the central government, we will start the facility only after we are informed by the Union health ministry, we haven’t been given any clear plan yet,” said a senior doctor at RML Hospital.
Lady Hardinge and Safdarjung are the other two central hospitals administering polio vaccination. Safdarjung administrators say they got a call from WHO last week. “We have accepted the reasonability; our community medicine and paediatric departments will coordinate and we are in the process of finalizing procedural details,” said Dr BD Athani, medical superintendent.
The Delhi government has designated 12 of its hospitals, including two municipal hospitals, and seven dispensaries as vaccination centres.
India’s last polio case was reported on January 13, 2011. A country is declared polio-free when it does not report a case of polio for three consecutive years. India’s successful fight against polio has paved the way for polio-free certification of the entire South East Asian region. The expert committee of WHO is scheduled to meet in New Delhi on March 26-27 to officially certify the region polio free in New Delhi.