India must be cautious over polio milestone: WHO

Fri Jan 13, 2012 1:52pm EST

1 of 2. A polio affected man returns after taking a dip at the confluence of the Ganges river and the Bay of Bengal at Sagar Island, south of Kolkata, January 13, 2012. India is about to hit a milestone in its battle to eradicate the polio virus with no new cases reported in the past year, the country's health minister said on Thursday, a dramatic drop from being the country worst affected by the crippling disease.

Credit: Reuters/Rupak De Chowdhuri

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NEW DELHI (AlertNet) - India may be celebrating a milestone in its fight against polio with no new cases in the last year, but complacency should not set in as a resurgence of the infection can occur if efforts are not sustained, the WHO head in India warned on Friday.

The last case of the crippling disease was detected on January 13, 2011 in a two-year-old girl in India's West Bengal state. A full year without any new cases will mean India will no longer be "polio-endemic," leaving only Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria.

"We are all subject to relaxing a bit when we have achieved some goal but we simply cannot allow that to happen with polio," Nata Menabde, the India head of the World Health Organization (WHO), told AlertNet in an interview.

"The important point is that while India may have stopped transmission of wild polio virus, it does not prevent such a virus from being re-imported or in fact the virus could be around and it has just not been detected."

Menabde said that while one year of no reported cases of the virus was an important public health achievement, it would take another two years of no cases before India could be certified as being "polio-free."

Until the 1950s, the disease crippled thousands every year in rich nations. It attacks the nervous system and can cause irreversible paralysis within hours of infection.

It often spreads in areas with poor sanitation -- a factor that helped it keep a grip on India for many decades -- and children under five are the most vulnerable. But it can be stopped with comprehensive, population-wide vaccination.

Just two years ago, 741 Indians fell sick with polio, nearly half the world's cases that year. The number of reported cases dropped to 42 in 2010 and only one last year.

Menabde said the secret of India's success was based on several factors, including a mass eradication program costing billions of dollars and mobilizing millions of people across the country to give every child under five the oral polio vaccine.

Around 900,000 doses of oral polio vaccine were given, immunizing 172 million children and involving 2.3 million vaccinators who visited 200 million homes in 2011 alone.

India has also used mobile vaccination teams that immunize children at bus stops, train stations, inside moving trains and in marketplaces.

But the health official took a cautionary note, saying that these efforts needed to continue as there were countries such as Tajikistan, Angola, Bangladesh and Russia which were certified as polio-free for many years, but had seen re-infections.

"If even one case occurs here again, we really have to mobilize a major effort and respond to it as emergency and do the mop up campaigns and vaccinate children around the area where such a thing may happen," said Menabde.

"It has been a major investment, we have to sustain this success, we have to finish the job as while there is one polio case in anywhere in the world, every country is vulnerable."

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Comments (4)
AbbieR wrote:
As a polio survivor with Post-Polio Syndrome (PPS), I am curious to know what efforts are in place to assist Post-Polio Syndrome patients in India. Eradicating polio does not mean the end of polio-related issues; the next twenty to fifty years will continue to reveal the long-term consequences to survivors. Can someone perhaps do an article about this issue in India and other affected countries?

Thank you.

Jan 14, 2012 6:48am EST  --  Report as abuse
I am, among other things, a Polio Pioneer. I didn’t have to do much. The Doctor had me look at a picture of a bee and told me that what was going to happen would feel a little bit like a bee sting. Well, for some one that was stung by 30+ yellow jackets after reaching in to a hedge row for a ball that did not sound very encouraging, but it was all over before you knew it, and it wasn’t so bad. That was in 1952 or 1953. I can’t say exactly because my wife threw out my Polio Pioneer Card that I had for a gazillion years. I had an older friend down the road, the grandson of some one who lived there, who had polio. I knew a women who had a withered leg. I knew a great Jazz musician that contracted polio later in life, in his 30′s, the way polio can strike, so my heart goes out to India and my wish is for them to endure for the next generation without any repeat of the affliction.

Jan 14, 2012 5:37pm EST  --  Report as abuse
Vaccines, a triumph of human ingenuity.

Jan 15, 2012 1:54pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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