FWD: Polio spread prompts major immunisation drive
- A sharp rise in polio cases in India's largest state has raised fears
of the return of a disease the country was close to wiping out just
three years ago.
Faced with the threat of the disease spreading across the country,
worried health authorities plan in November to relaunch an extensive
immunisation drive across Uttar Pradesh, the state where a majority of
the cases have been reported.
"There have been more than 400 cases of polio reported. Something has
gone wrong," said Health Secretary Prasanna K Hota.
'Most of the cases are concentrated in one area'
Of the 416 cases of polio reported this year, 358 cases were from the
poverty-ridden Uttar Pradesh state, where a combination of poverty,
illiteracy and superstitious beliefs has resulted in hundreds of
children going without immunisation and raised fears of a major
comeback of the paralysing disease.
"Most of the cases are concentrated in one area. We have to find out
what went wrong," Hota said Tuesday. "However, we are launching a
massive immunisation drive in the state in November."
Over the weekend newspapers reported that four cases of polio had been
detected in New Delhi, and that all four were children who had
migrated to the Indian capital from Uttar Pradesh. Media reports have
also noted cases of polio surfacing in the neighbouring states of
Punjab and Haryana, and as far afield as Maharashtra due to workers
migrating from Uttar Pradesh.
Polio usually infects children under age 5 through contaminated
The virus attacks the central nervous system, causing paralysis,
muscular atrophy and deformation and, in some cases, death. However,
the disease can be prevented through doses of a vaccine delivered to
infants and toddlers as oral drops.
In 2004, India had come close to eliminating polio and had declared
2005 as the year when the country would be declared polio-free.
However, the disease has resurfaced, with nearly 90 percent of the
cases detected in Uttar Pradesh.
India's health ministry has now set a new deadline of 2007 for ending
polio in the country.
Wiping it out from Uttar Pradesh, has been set as a priority task. For
years, rumours have swept the state's sizable Muslim population,
particularly among the poor and illiterate, that the polio vaccine is
actually a form of birth control and part of a Western plot to reduce
the Muslim birth rate.
But Indian health authorities say the focus of the new immunisation
drive will be reaching the densely populated villages of Uttar Pradesh.
"If the world has to succeed on the polio front, India has to succeed.
If India has to succeed, Uttar Pradesh has to succeed," Anbumani
Ramadoss, the federal health minister, told journalists recently.
India has drawn criticism from international health groups for the
slide back. The World Health Organisation has identified India,
Pakistan, Nigeria and Afghanistan as the countries where the disease
is yet to be controlled.
Bangladesh reported nine new cases of the disease in 2006.
The surge in polio cases in India is also bound to create
apprehensions in neighbouring Sri Lanka where the crippling disease
was wiped out after years of sustained anti-polio campaigns.
Before 1988, when WHO launched a global anti-polio campaign, there
were more than 350 000 cases across the globe annually. - Sapa-AP
By Nirmala George October 25 2006 at 10:01PM