India’s six-year-long fight to eradicate polio touched a milestone on Thursday (January 12), when the country recorded a polio-free year. The lone case of polio in 2011 was detected in a two-year-old girl in Panchala Block of Howrah district in West Bengal.
The mammoth campaign to contain the crippling virus disease at a whopping cost of Rs. 12,000 crore was launched in 2005 in collaboration with agencies like World Health Organisation covering over 17.2 crore children under the age group of below five years.
The National Pulse Polio Programme initially used monovalent vaccines, but switched over to bivalent polio vaccine (bOPV) to curtail the most dangerous type 1 and type 3 polio viruses simultaneously.
The surveillance for Polio virus in India was among the most sensitive in the world, with as many as 35,325 sites across the country reporting Acute Flaccid Paralysis cases. The progress also results from focused and tailored strategies to vaccinate children in the highest risk areas, which helped ensure 99 per cent coverage in each vaccination round.
Each National Pulse Polio Immunization round covered nearly 17.2 crore children less than five years of age, mobilizing 24 lakh vaccinators under 1.5 lakh supervisors visiting over 20 crore households. Besides the campaign were also extended railway stations, bus stands, market areas and construction sites to immunize children in transit.
The virus attacks the nervous system and causes irreversible paralysis within hours of infection. It often spreads in areas with poor sanitation and children below the age of five are the most vulnerable.
While India made unprecedented progress, the threat of polio persists. Health authorities fear, it now runs the risk of importation of the virus exported to other countries in the past through migration. The key challenge now is to ensure any residual or imported poliovirus in the country is rapidly detected and eliminated.
With India achieving zero level in polio cases, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria now are the only countries left with the endemic, which caused the death of about 1000 children every day some 25 years ago.