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Now that India’s “polio-free” status is less than three months away - the nation’s last polio case is of a two-year-old girl in Howrah, West Bengal, reported on January 13, 2011 - the Centre is going the extra mile to stop re-infection.
This year, 296 polio cases were reported till October 16. In 2012, there were 171 in the same period and 223 till December 31 from five countries - Afghanistan, Chad, Niger, Nigeria, and Pakistan.
In 2013, polio cases in four countries — Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia and South Sudan – that were polio-free in 2012, are double of those in Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan. And with conflict-hit Syria almost certain to join the group this week, re-infection is a worrying reality for India.
India’s intensive vaccination drive brought polio cases down to one in 2011 from 741 in 2009, when India topped the world’s polio charts, reporting about 46% of the global total of 1,604 cases.
“Children under 5 years crossing the international border into India are being vaccinated against polio at five points along the Indo-Pak border, 84 points along Indo-Nepal border and three points along India-Bangladesh border,” said Dr Pradeep Haldar, deputy commissioner immunisation, ministry of health and family welfare.
India’s Polio Emergency Preparedness and Response Plans teams have identified nearly 4,00,000 high risk settlements, to ensure no child under 5 misses vaccination. “The risks are huge in view of the uncontrolled transmission in Pakistan, Nigeria, the outbreaks in the Horn of Africa, and now Syria. The virus may come back into India through the same route it went out to countries as far as Angola, Tajikistan, Bangladesh and Nepal,” says Deepak Kapur, chair of the India National PolioPlus Committee.
Polio is a vaccine-preventable viral infection that cripples, paralyses and kills children, often within hours. Children who survive are often disabled permanently.
People living in countries and regions in conflict — Syria, Somalia and Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), to name a few —are at most risk because vaccinators cannot reach children. In Pakistan, the majority of cases are from North Waziristan in FATA, which now has the largest number of children being paralysed by polio in Asia.
Failure to eradicate polio could lead to at least 2 lakh children paralysed or dead worldwide every year.
Since the launch of the UN-backed Global Polio Eradication Initiative in 1988, polio cases have dropped by 99%-from 3.5 lakh children paralysed or killed annually in 125 countries in 1988 to 223 cases in five countries in 2012.
India’s last reported case was on January 13, 2011.