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Govt optimistic it will wipe out polio by 2008

The government is very optimistic it will have eliminated polio by 2008, says union health minister Anbumani Ramadoss.

delhi Updated: Jun 06, 2007 19:03 IST

The government is very optimistic it will have eliminated polio by 2008, union health minister said on Wednesday.

Anbumani Ramadoss said only 60 Indians were reported to have developed the paralysing and sometimes deadly disease so far this year. An epidemic infected 676 Indians in 2006, a tenfold rise on 2005.

"We are very optimistic that this year we will be having the least number of cases, and by next year we will have zero cases," he told reporters after a meeting with state health ministers.

It was a rosier outlook than in December, when Ramadoss said it would take three years to do away with the disease.

David Heymann, a senior epidemiologist from the World Health Organisation (WHO) elimination programme, who attended the meeting, said Ramadoss's tighter target was possible.

"With extremely effective campaigns and with good luck this could disappear," he told Reuters. "What's important is to set a target that people can strive for."

He said that he would expect to see a large drop in polio cases after the kind of epidemic seen in India in 2006, because an epidemic creates natural widespread immunisation amongst the affected communities.

The most encouraging news was that the most contagious strain of polio appeared to be on the wane for the first time in India, Heymann said.

In 2005, 94 per cent of infections were of the more contagious strain. So far in 2007 that proportion has dropped to 55 per cent.

The WHO has spent nearly a decade trying to rid the planet of polio, and originally set out to do this by 2000.

But, besides India, significant reservoirs still linger in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria.

The last Indian strongholds of the disease, which is spread through faeces, are in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, where millions of people live in poverty, without supplies of clean water and unconnected to any sewage system.

In the last year and a half, India has switched to a more effective vaccination programme, the WHO's Heymann said.