Ankita Chakrabarty/Zee Research Group/Delhi
“UN officials tell me that hopefully by early next year we shall be able to announce that India is finally free of polio,” wrote an ecstatic millennium star and UNICEF brand ambassador Amitabh Bachchan middle of last month.
His dream of a billion plus polio free nation has just crossed its biggest ever hurdle. India, which kicked off in 1995 a mammoth drive to make country polio free, would on Friday complete a full year without any polio incident being reported in the country.
For the record, India reported its last case of polio on January 13 last year, from Kolkata in West Bengal. Polio endemic states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar too have recorded a constant drop in the polio cases from 2008 onwards with zero case recorded in the year 2011 in these two states.
The milestone has indeed been greeted with a round of applause. An elated Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation congratulated the Indian government for its efforts in protecting the children against this debilitating disease. But the celebration might have to be muted in view of the long road yet ahead for declaring India a fully polio free country.
“To be totally polio free, the World Health Organization (WHO) stipulates that there should be no case of paralytic poliomyelitis by wild polio virus in last three calendar years. So, if there are no polio cases by wild polio virus in 2012 and subsequent years we can call that India has eradicated poliomyelitis in 2015,” explains Dr A.K Dutta, Head of department of Pediatrics at Kalawati S.C Hospital, Delhi.
The challenges are on other front too. “Once wild polio virus is eradicated from the country, the major issue of concern is that of acute poliomyelitis caused by vaccine virus itself. The cases are occurring even now and outnumbering wild poliomyelitis cases even in India. Once polio is eradicated then there would be need of injectable polio vaccine in the program along with Diphtheria Pertussis and Tetanus (DPT) vaccine so that we can control vaccine associated and vaccine derived poliomyelitis,” cautions Dr. Dutta while complimenting the authorities in having reached thus far.
A state wise profile of polio shows that there has been a constant drop in the number of polio cases from 2008 onwards in all polio endemic states. A total of 305 cases of polio were recorded from Uttar Pradesh during 2008 but the figure dropped drastically to 10 in 2010 and during 2011 the state went polio incident free.
Another traditional polio endemic state Bihar has also recorded a massive drop in polio cases from 2008 onwards. A total of 233 polio cases were reported in 2008 in Bihar and the number fell to just nine in 2010. Last year the state went incident free.
What brought about this turnaround? “It is embarrassing to sit and hear praise. It has been the joint efforts of all concerned in bringing the results that we did,” said (tweeted) Bachchan on December 15 at the end of a launch of a new polio communications campaign.
Dr A.P.Dubey, Head of department of Pediatrics, Maulana Azad Medical College (MAMC), Delhi, says, “The Pulse Polio Programme has been very effective in minimizing the polio cases. We have been able to curtail this menace only because of constant and excellent efforts of the government of India.”
Sounding a caution for young parents, Dr Vandana Kent, senior pediatrician at Rockland Hospital advises that, “Once couples become parents, they should be aware about the vaccination schedules and they should take their respective children to get them immunized on time against this deadly disease.”