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    Posted on 13 January 2012
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    MEDICAL FEAT

    After gruelling marathon, India hits polio-free milestone

    Finally, India will be struck off the World Health Organisation’s list of polio-endemic countries

    Shonali Ghosal
    New Delhi

    Total spending on the Pulse Polio Immunisation Programme so far is more than Rs 12,000 crore


    India celebrated its first polio-free year on Friday hitting a milestone. Having recorded a staggering 50,000 cases in 1999, the news comes as a big relief and gives hope to the health sector. Finally, India will be struck off the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) list of polio-endemic countries, which still includes Pakistan, Nigeria and Afghanistan.

    “When India recorded around 200,000 cases before the vaccine came out in 1978, such a massive progress in eradicating the disease was unthinkable,” says Anuradha Gupta, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. But India went ahead. A total of 741 cases in 2009 was an improvement even though it was almost half of the 1,604 instances recorded worldwide. In January 2010, India introduced the Bivalent Polio Vaccine bringing down the total number to double digits in 2010, 42 cases. Since then, India has come a long way.

    How did India do it? “With commitment and perseverance of both the Central and the state governments, their partnership with WHO, UNICEF, Rotary International and, of course, people who took the initiative month after month,” says Sona Bari, spokeswoman for WHO’s Global Polio Eradication Initiative.

    Total spending on the Pulse Polio Immunisation Programme so far is more than Rs 12,000 crore. The funding is backed by commitment of 24 lakh vaccinators (volunteers) and 1.5 lakh supervisors who conduct the National Pulse Polio Immunisation rounds visiting over 20 crore households to ensure that children under five years are immunised with the Oral Polio Vaccine.

    Other than regular surveillance, which is done by testing the stool of children paralysed due to acute flaccid paralysis, sewage samples are checked for the polio virus. The last sewage sample which tested positive for the virus was in November 2010. “It couldn’t have been done without volunteers going door to door and giving vaccines for decades,” says Bari.

    “It is a great day but we can’t afford to be complacent,” says Gupta as she warns of the risk of indigenous transmission and transportation of the virus fro outside. Bari assures that surveillance will continue at the same level. “We will keep finding children who are paralysed and get them tested,” she says recalling her meeting with the two-year-old girl from Kolkata who was India’s last known polio case. “I met her in March 2011. It’s a great feeling to see that she’s has recovered and is well now,” she says.

    Though some lab tests for the year are still pending, hopefully, India’s polio-free year will stand.

    Shonali Ghosal is a Correspondent with Tehelka.
    [email protected]


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    Posted on 13 January 2012
 

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