One of the world’s most successful mass mobilisation programmes to tackle a public health issue, the immunisation drive against polio, finds itself mired in what can best be described as ‘inter-state imbalance’. While some states like Maharashtra and Kerala have successfully implemented the programme, the same cannot be said for others like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Clearly, social disparities in healthcare in these regions are responsible for the disease’s resurgence.
The resurfacing of a polio case in Mumbai, three years after the last reported case, has led to a lot of finger pointing between the health ministries of two states, Maharashtra and UP. Earlier, the high number of polio cases reported from UP alone led to harsh words between the Union and state governments, with the latter questioning the efficacy of the vaccine. It is now part of the record that the immunisation drive is up against ignorance and a certain mindset of some minority communities and the rich. It is no mean feat for any government to implement a public health programme of the proportions of the polio immunisation drive. To the credit of the Union Health Ministry, it did manage to achieve much of what it had set out to. But signs of the programme becoming derailed are emerging. Instead of a holistic approach, the polio programme shows signs of breaking up into a state-versus-state and a state-versus-Centre battle. This was evident in the initial reaction of the administration in Mumbai to its latest polio case.
Governments must realise that the polio virus is a migrant bug and spreads easily through contact with an infected person or his bodily secretions. As such, the Centre should immediately knock heads and refine its national strategy on the disease. Just like securing a cold chain, it must maintain the close coordination achieved earlier between the Union and state administrations, the municipal authorities and the panchayats, down to the volunteers who administer the vaccine. If this is not done, the country stands to lose a great deal of what it has achieved in the past.