Entering third polio-free year, India must destroy all wild poliovirus lab samples by December

Having successfully completed two polio-free years, India is preparing to receive the crucial polio eradication certificate from the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The certificate is issued on completion of incident-free three years. This primarily involves the destruction or safe storage of all laboratory sources of wild poliovirus. The storage should be in laboratories that meet international standards of biosafety.

To achieve this, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has set up a National Task Force for Containment of Wild Poliovirus. Chaired by the Director-General of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), it will identify laboratories that could store wild poliovirus or potentially infectious material.

Wild poliovirus could be present in certain types of clinical samples stored at or below minus 20 degrees Celsius. These could have been collected for investigations not related to wild poliovirus detections. There are several medical colleges/universities, colleges and research institutions that work on infectious material and, therefore, have clinical samples collected over several decades. Information from these institutions will be collected and compiled for preparing a national inventory.

The process has to be completed by December and failure to do so will delay the certification process. Cabinet Secretary Ajit Seth has personally written to the Chief Secretaries of State governments on behalf of the Health Ministry, seeking their cooperation in taking the process forward with a sense of extreme urgency. A pre-tested form has been sent to all laboratories and institutions to elicit information on wild poliovirus.

The WHO’s Global Action Plan for containment of wild polioviruses advises that when polio cases are decreasing, national health authorities must alert laboratories, encourage destruction of all unneeded wild poliovirus material and compile an inventory of all laboratories retaining such materials.