The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has set up an expert group to work out a strategy to ensure eradication of wild poliovirus and minimise the risk of emergence and circulation of Vaccine-Derived Polio Virus (VDPV) in the country.

The government is also working in coordination with the Global Polio Eradication Initiative on polio end-game strategy, a statement issued by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare said here on Monday.

This comes after an 11-month old immune-deficient boy in Dharur block of Beed district in Maharashtra died on Sunday after being afflicted with VDPV.

VDPVs are extremely rare and detected in children with immunodeficiency or in populations with low levels of immunisation. They are different from wild polioviruses and India has not reported any case of wild poliovirus since January 2011.

In India, 741 children were paralysed due to the wild poliovirus in 2009, accounting for over half of the global polio cases against this backdrop, India’s success in keeping children free from any wild poliovirus for the last more than two years is being globally acclaimed as a major public health achievement. WHO removed India from the list of polio endemic countries in 2012 following one year without any case due to wild poliovirus in the country. Having completed more than two years without the wild poliovirus, India has moved closer to a polio-free certification in early 2014.

“The government and the States have been focusing on intensifying routine immunisation to minimise the risk of VDPVs. The response is consistent with the global strategy. The most important strategy for prevention of emergence of VDPVs is achieving and maintaining high routine immunisation coverage with OPV [oral polio vaccine] doses among infants,” Union Health and Family Welfare Secretary Keshav Desiraju said in the statement.

To achieve higher routine immunisation rates and protect children against all vaccine preventable diseases, the government declared 2012-13 as the ‘Year of Intensification of Routine Immunisation’.

This year, the government has planned four ‘Special Immunisation Weeks’ in the 4,11,129 high risk areas identified by the polio eradication programme. These areas comprise slums, nomadic sites, construction sites, brick kilns and other areas housing people on the move, who often miss out on immunisation due to their transient nature.

These special immunisation weeks in April, June, July and August are aimed at protecting the vulnerable populations with all vaccines available under routine immunisation, including OPV. Of the 4,11,129 high risk areas, 82,965 are in Maharashtra.

WHO representative Nata Menabde said, “India’s polio surveillance programme is geared to detect VDPVs as part of the AFP surveillance system supported by the World Health Organisation.” Detection of VDPVs will not impact the polio eradication certification process.