India may have won the battle against polio but the war is far from over. Having achieved one full polio-free year, the key challenge now is to ensure any residual or imported poliovirus in the country is rapidly detected and eliminated.

The challenge is also to ensure all children up to 5 years continue to take OPV at every available opportunity (during polio campaigns and routine immunisations) both in and outside the polio-endemic States until global eradication is achieved, Anuradha Gupta, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare told reporters in New Delhi, ahead of a two-day Polio Summit 2012 beginning February 25.

The summit will be inaugurated by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to celebrate the “major achievement and unprecedented’’ progress which needs to be sustained until polio is eradicated. The last bastions of polio in India – Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal – are expected to present their efforts and challenges at the summit which will also provide a platform for sharing and learning lessons, and to renew and reinforce commitment of the stakeholders in polio eradication. The summit is being organised in collaboration with Rotary International.

On January 13, 2012 India achieved a major milestone in the history of polio eradication – a 12 month period without any case of polio being recorded. This date marks the unprecedented progress in India and is an endorsement of the effectiveness of the polio eradication strategies and their implementation in India, Ms Gupta said.

The last polio case was reported from Howrah in West Bengal on January 13 last year. In 2010, there were 42 cases while as many as 150,000 cases were reported in 1985. The last positive case from monthly environmental sewage sampling (conducted in Delhi, Mumbai and Patna) was reported from Mumbai in 2010.

Since the launch of Global Polio Eradication Initiative in 1988, the incidence of wild poliovirus has reduced by 99 per cent – from 350,000 children paralysed or killed annually in 125 countries in 1988 to 649 cases in 17 countries in 2011. In 2006, the number of polio-endemic countries (countries that have never stopped indigenous wild poliovirus transmission) was reduced to four – India, Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

One of the three types of wild poliovirus – wild poliovirus type 2 (WPV2) has been eradicated globally. The last case of WPV 2 was reported from Aligarh in October 1999. The two polio endemic States of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar have not reported any case of polio since April 2010 and September 2010 respectively.

The transmission of the most dangerous WPV1, which caused 95 per cent of polio in India until 2006, dropped to record low levels in 2010. Uttar Pradesh, the epicentre of most polio outbreaks in the country, has not reported any WPV1 cases since November 2009.

“The challenge really is to ensure imported poliovirus because neighbouring Pakistan and Afghanistan have a large number of cases. We have set up booths along the Indo-Pakistan border to check any importation of cases from Pakistan,’’ Ms Gupta said.