Print version ISSN 0042-9686
Bull World Health Organ vol.81 n.9 Genebra Sep. 2003
India remobilizes against polio
Bishakha De Sarkar
In the last five days of July, 1.79 million children received polio drops in the neighbouring states of Assam and Meghalaya in eastern India. A second five-day immunization campaign would start on 31 August , WHO officials said.
The drive was occasioned by the detection of a wild poliovirus in Goalpara in western Assam in June this year, in the course of routine surveillance.
Arun Thapa, WHOs adviser for polio in the South-East Asia Region, says that the virus probably reached Assam where there had been no cases for two years from neighbouring Bihar, where there were 121 cases last year.
One case of polio may not sound alarming. But health officials warn that even one case, if undetected, can infect hundreds of children, each one of whom can infect hundreds more.
"We are taking this threat of polio very seriously," says the Chief Minister of Assam, Bhumidhar Barman, "We are doing all that we can to ensure that the virus does not spread." This includes awareness campaigns on the need for immunization, conducted with the help of schoolchildren, teachers, village leaders and government health workers.
According to Sunil Bahl, WHOs Immunization Coordinator, the July-August immunization programme in 7 districts in Assam and 5 in Meghalaya has been successful so far in most areas, though still falling 79% short of the 100% coverage needed. "There were a few areas where the health infrastructure was found wanting," he says. "In some places, for instance, there were not enough health care workers. Elsewhere, the workers were not proactive enough, which means that they couldnt mobilize every child in the neighbourhood for immunization."
India witnessed a serious outbreak last year, when over 80% of all polio cases in the world occurred in this country.
"Huge progress was made in 2000, when there were only 272 cases of polio in India," says Louise Baker, External Relations Officer for Immunization and Vaccine Development at WHOs Regional Office in New Delhi. "But just when the Indian Government thought that it had the virus under control, it made a comeback."
The government has now gone back to an earlier programme of setting aside two national days for immunization, as well as four subnational ones, which target the key northern states that remain heavily infected.
WHO officials report that there has been a drastic fall in the number of polio cases in India this year as a result of the epidemic and the increase in polio campaigns: as of 18 August it is down to 102 from 1600 in 2002.