Polio drive takes big hit, 80 cases in just two weeks
More polio cases have been reported in the last two weeks than in all of 2005, reports Sanchita Sharma.india Updated: Nov 11, 2006 00:22 IST
India's dream of becoming polio free by 2007 just received a major setback. More polio cases have been reported in the last two weeks than in all of 2005. Eighty confirmed polio cases - 49 last week and 31 in the week ending on Friday- were reported to the health ministry last fortnight, taking the number up to 521. In 2005, only 66 cases had been reported.
The vast majority of the cases are from western Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, which account for 438 cases and 40 cases respectively. Worried public health officials at the health ministry and its partner agencies such as World Health Organisation and UNICEF are now pulling all stops to ensure that the sub-national Pulse Polio Day on Sunday covers all the 13 crore children under 5 years of age living in 17 states. This immunisation round is expected to cost Rs 130 crore.
India's pulse polio campaign started in Delhi in 1994 and was stepped up to cover the rest of the country in 1995. On an average, Rs 1,000 crore is spent every year to repeatedly vaccinate all children under 5 years old. With only 66 reported cases in 2005, the lowest in the country ever, the government seemed quite optimistic about eradicating polio.
But poor immunisation coverage in UP and Bihar is a severe setback. "States such as West Bengal, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and UTs such as Chandigarh had reported no polio cases in 2005. All the cases are importations from UP," said a health ministry official. "This will push back our polio-free deadline by two years."
International experts are somewhat more optimistic. The WHO's Jay Wenger, who heads the National Polio Surveillance Project, says good vaccination coverage may still allow India to wipe out the virus by the end of 2007. "Countries such as Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo have managed to stop polio a year after an outbreak. For every paralysed child, there are about 100 other infected children who get infected but survive and build natural immunity against polio. Since the virus can survive for just for a day or two in the environment, we have to ensure that every child gets polio drops on November 12, so that the virus cannot find anyone to infect, and die out, hopefully, by the end of next year," he said.
Rumours about the polio vaccine - such as it being ineffective, and worse, a form of sterilisation - have kept many gullible Muslims away. Rotary has roped in Aligarh Muslim University vice chancellor Naseem Ahmed to persuade religious leaders and the community to get all children vaccinated. "Illiteracy and ignorance have been holding people back, but once they know the vaccine is good for their children, they will want them to be immunised," Ahmed told HT, after meeting community leaders in Moradabad on Friday.