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FWD: Polio spread prompts major immunisation drive

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  • Keith Armstrong
    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.
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 25, 2006
      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
      drinking water.

      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

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