India will be officially declared “polio-free” on January 13 by the World Health Organisation. There hasn’t been a new case of polio in three years, but the threat of re-infection from across the border looms large.
India’s last polio case – a two-year-old girl in the Panchla block of Howrah, West Bengal – was reported on January 13, 2011. But nationwide immunisation drives continued and will go on.
“The risk of importation (of polio virus) is real and has increased since 2013 with outbreaks in the Horn of Africa and the Middle East, in addition to the continuing poliovirus transmission in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria. Since 2000, 49 countries that were polio-free suffered from one or more importations of wild poliovirus,” said Nicole Deutsch, polio chief, UNICEF India.
Of the total 372 polio cases in 2013, 85 were from Pakistan and 12 from Afghanistan. Somlia had the biggest outbreak with 183 cases — it had been polio-free since 2007. The polio strain was traced to Nigeria, which reported 51 cases. Syria, Cameroon, Ethiopia and Kenya also had outbreaks after being declared polio-free in 2012.
India has already taken precautions to avoid re-infection.
Since 2011, all children under 5 years of age crossing from Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Bhutan are given polio drops at 102 border-crossing posts. In two years, more than 4.2 million children have been immunised.
And beginning January 30, those entering India from Pakistan, regardless of age, will be required to carry a certificate of vaccination against polio.
The immunisation drives will go on too. “India will have two national and four sub-national polio vaccination campaigns in 2014 and 2015, down from two national and six sub-national campaigns in 2013,” said a Union health ministry official.
In each national campaign, 2.3 million vaccinators immunise nearly 172 million children. In the past, “India exported the virus to every continent except Antarctica and the virus can take the same route back to infect every corner of the country,” said Deepak Kapur, head of Rotary International’s polioplus committee. To further strengthen its defenses, India has set up a “laboratory-backed surveillance” to detect the virus, even in sewage samples, and will soon be expanded to cover five states, including Punjab, said Deutsch.