NEW DELHI: India’s success in controlling polio – not reporting a single case of the crippling disease in 12 months – has been lauded by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Calling it “India’s greatest public health achievement”, the WHO said the number of polio-endemic countries – those which have never stopped indigenous wild poliovirus transmission – could soon be reduced to a historical low of three: Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan.

“India was once recognized as the world’s epicentre of polio. If all pending laboratory investigations return negative, in the coming weeks India will officially be deemed to have stopped indigenous transmission of wild poliovirus. India’s success is arguably its greatest public health achievement and has provided a global opportunity to push for the end of polio,” said WHO’s director-general Margaret Chan.

Chan said the Global Polio Eradication Initiative is in full emergency mode and focused on using this momentum to bring down the crippling disease. “Stopping polio in India required creativity, perseverance and professionalism. The lessons from India must now be adapted and implemented through emergency actions to finish polio everywhere,” Chan added.

TOI on Friday had reported how countries like Angola, Lebanon, Tajikistan, Bangladesh and Namibia are fighting polio with most of them having imported the virus from India multiple times in the last decade.

On similar lines, the WHO said, “Poliovirus can travel easily to polio-free areas. Stopping polio in India will prevent a recurrence of the polio outbreaks – due to virus of Indian origin – seen in recent years in countries as diverse as Angola, Bangladesh, Nepal, Russia and Tajikistan.”

Director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Dr Thomas Frieden said, India must continue to protect its children through supplementary immunization activities and improved routine immunization coverage rates or risk a potentially horrific re-importation event. “Polio’s history contains many cautionary tales,” Dr Frieden said.

“Polio anywhere in the world is a risk everywhere in the world, and to protect itself from a setback, India is appropriately planning to continue meticulous monitoring and intensive childhood vaccination against polio,” he added.

UNICEF executive director Anthony Lake said, “India’s achievement is proof positive that we can eradicate polio even in the most challenging environments – in fact, it is only by targeting these areas that we can defeat this evil disease. We have the ability to protect every last person, especially children, from this entirely preventable disease – and because we can, we must finish the job of eradicating polio globally, once and for all.”

Rotary International had first launched the global polio eradication drive in 1985. Rotary International’s president Kalyan Banerjee said that with the intensity of transmission in India, many experts had predicted it would be the last country in the world to achieve eradication.

In 2009, India had more polio cases than any other country in the world. India recorded 741 cases of polio in 2009 – nearly half the number of global cases. But, the nation reported only one case of polio from West Bengal on January 13, 2011. Since then, India has managed to keep the deadly virus at bay. Experts agree that the introduction of the new bivalent vaccine made a difference.

India saw a 94% decline in polio cases in 2010. It recorded only 42 polio cases. The number of affected districts also saw a sharp dip – from 90 in 2008, 56 in 2009 to only 17 in 2010. Polio hotbed Uttar Pradesh reported 10 polio cases in 2010 as compared to 602 in 2009.

Bihar recorded nine polio cases in 2010 against 117 in 2009. Scientific studies showed that BOPVinduced a significantly higher immune response – 30% more than other trivalent or monovalent vaccines that was used earlier.

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