Finally, a year free of polio

The dream of a polio-free nation has just crossed its biggest ever hurdle. India, which kicked off a mammoth drive in 1995 to make country polio free, will on Friday complete a full year without any polio incident being reported in the country.

The country reported its last case of polio on January 13 last year, from Kolkata in West Bengal. Polio endemic states such as Uttar Pradesh and Bihar too have recorded a constant drop in the polio cases from 2008 — with no case recorded in the two states in 2011.

“UN officials tell me that hopefully by early next year we shall be able to announce that India is finally free of polio,” wrote UNICEF brand ambassador Amitabh Bachhan last month. The milestone has been greeted with a round of applause. Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, congratulated 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 ahead for declaring India a fully polio free country.

“To be totally polio free, the 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 India has eradicated poliomyelitis in 2015,” explains Dr AK Dutta, head of the department of paediatrics at Kalawati SC Hospital, Delhi.

Polio is usually caused by wild polio virus — the virus that is circulating in the environment. And the polio vaccine is prepared by passing the same virus through various culture mediums. In some patients whose immunity is very poor, this vaccine virus passes through their gut and enters the environment. Once in open environment, it transforms into wild virus and infects other people. This is called vaccine derived paralytic poliomyelitis. And this poses a big challenge.

“Once wild polio virus is eradicated from the country, the major issue of concern is that of acute poliomyelitis. The cases are occurring even now and outnumbering wild poliomyelitis cases even in India. Once polio is eradicated there will be a need for injectable polio vaccine in the programme along with Diphtheria Pertussis and Tetanus (DPT) vaccine so that we can control vaccine associated and vaccine derived poliomyelitis,” says Dr Dutta.

Dr AP Dubey, head of the department of paediatrics, Maulana Azad Medical College (MAMC), Delhi, says, “The pulse polio programme has been very effective in minimising 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 paediatrician at Rockland Hospital, says, “Once couples become parents, they should be aware about the vaccination schedules and they should get their children immunized on time against this deadly disease.”

Ankita Chakrabarty/ Zee Research Group
New Delhi DNA, Bombay : Jan 13, 2012

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