India poised to be declared polio-free by World Health Organisation in January 2014

India is poised to be declared polio-free by the World Health Organisation. In a fitting tribute, schoolchildren assembled in large numbers across Madurai district to commemorate World Polio Day, which fell on October 24.

The date has special significance for Madurai: no polio case has been reported in the district for the past 15 years.

In 1998, four cases of polio were detected, three from rural areas and one from the city.

“Compulsory vaccination and successful implementation of the pulse polio drive through National Immunisation Days for nearly a decade have contributed to this success. Children up to the age of five were given two doses of oral vaccine every year in addition to the routine immunisation. The same thrust must go on,” says S. Senthilkumar, Deputy Director of Health Services, Madurai district.

To keep the momentum going, members of Rotary Clubs were at pains to educate school students about polio, its symptoms, prevention and the vaccines available.

“Since the Rotary International, along with the World Health Organisation and UNICEF, has been playing a major role in global polio eradication, we thought it fit to celebrate with students and make them understand the impact of polio,” said Dr.G. Vasudevan, Rotary’s district coordinator for polio projects and a senior member of the Rotary Club of Madurai West.

Close surveillance of Acute Flaccid Paralysis (AFP) cases, especially among children, has played a significant role. A special wing called the National Polio Surveillance Project of the WHO is functioning in the health department office at Viswanathapuram and takes care of polio surveillance in seven districts — Madurai, Dindigul, Theni, Sivaganga, Pudukottai, Tiruchi and Karur.

Every AFP case is investigated to rule out polio. Stool samples are sent to the King Institute Lab in Chennai. Public health officials confirm that routine immunisation, surveillance and dedicated pulse polio immunisation days contributed to the eradication of the wild polio virus.

Paediatrician S. Naavarasu of Vadamalayan Hospitals cautions that India cannot be complacent as neighbouring countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan are still polio endemic. “As in America, it is time we popularise vaccine injections for polio. While the dose of oral polio drops is effective, it is better if we have injections as well,” he notes.

Dr. Naavarasu is happy that parents themselves are taking the initiative to enquire about polio vaccination and its schedule for their babies.

Improvement in sanitation and the availability of safe/potable water are cited as important factors in containing the polio virus. Dr.Senthilkumar says that the health department regularly reviews AFP syndrome with hospitals and paediatricians.

“Stick to the immunisation schedule, go for institutional delivery and your doctor will take care of the result. We will have one more round of pulse polio immunisation for children up to the age of five,” he says.

On their part, the Rotary Clubs are also gearing up for pulse polio immunisation. Dr.Vasudevan says a workshop will be organised in Madurai on November 17 to prepare a plan of action.

Statistics show India has come a long way in polio eradication.

In February 2012, the country was taken off the WHO list of polio endemic countries. The last case reported in India was from West Bengal in January 2011.

In the year 2002, the country had about 1,600 polio cases. It recorded just one polio case in 2011 and came down to zero status by 2012. A host of global organisations, including the Rotary International and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, are pumping millions of dollars into the anti-polio drive.

As a determined nation is pushing polio to a corner, the day to say goodbye to the wild virus is not far away.

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