102 vaccination posts set up along the borders

All States with international borders have been put on alert to reduce the risk of importation of poliovirus from neighbouring countries in the wake of a polio outbreak in Syria.

As many as 102 vaccination posts have been set up along the international borders: with Pakistan at 5 points, with Nepal at 88 points and with Bangladesh at two points, the others being along the Myanmar and Bhutan borders.

“The government is mindful of risk of poliovirus importation… in view of the continuing polio transmission in the remaining endemic countries and the outbreaks in Syria and the Horn of Africa region,” said Health and Family Welfare Secretary Keshav Desiraju.

WHO, UNICEF begin massive response

Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation and the United Nations Children’s Fund have begun the largest-ever, consolidated emergency immunisation response in the Middle East, aiming to vaccinate over 20 million children in seven countries and territories repeatedly. They are Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza, Syria and Turkey.

In campaigns in and around Syria, to prevent transmission of polio and other preventable diseases, more than 6,50,000 children have been vaccinated including 1,16,000 in the highly-congested northeast Deir-ez-Zor Province where the outbreak was confirmed a week ago.

In a region that did not see polio for nearly a decade, poliovirus has been detected, in the last 12 months, in sewage samples from Egypt, Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The first polio outbreak in Syria since 1999 has so far left 10 children paralyzed, and poses a risk of paralysis to hundreds of thousands of children across the region. Preliminary evidence indicates that the poliovirus is of Pakistani origin and is similar to the strain detected in Egypt, Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Back home in India, all possible measures are being taken to maintain immunity of children. The entire network is now geared to strengthening Routine Immunisation, which is the key to ensuring a polio-free India until the risk of the infectious viral disease is eliminated from the world.

“Any case of importation will be dealt with as an emergency. For the past two years, the polio programme has been preparing and renewing its Emergency Preparedness and Response Capacity. All States have an emergency response plan. Rapid Response Teams have been formed, trained and reoriented in their role for polio emergency response,” Mr. Desiraju said.

The polio virus usually infects children in unsanitary conditions through faecal-oral transmission associated with close person-to-person contact and consumption of food and drink contaminated with faeces. It attacks the nerves and can kill or paralyse, spreading widely and unnoticed before it starts crippling children. For every one case of polio, 200 children can be infected. There is no cure for polio — it can only be prevented through immunisation, said a joint statement by WHO and UNICEF.

“While India has stopped poliovirus transmission, the risk of importation of polio from areas with currently active transmission remains very high. Surveillance for polio continues to be highly sensitive to ensure rapid detection of poliovirus anywhere in the country. It is critical for India to ensure high population immunity through poliovirus campaigns and routine immunisation and to be in a state of readiness to respond to a poliovirus importation if it occurs,” said WHO Representative to India Nata Menabde.

According to Anisur Rahman Siddique, Programme Specialist, Polio, UNICEF India, the outbreak in the Middle East, which was polio-free for over a decade, is a reminder that polio anywhere is a threat to unprotected children everywhere.

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