However, experts urge caution as the virus does not know boundaries
India’s achievement of ‘no polio’ status without any cases for three years now is touted as one of the biggest accomplishments of public health in this decade. Tamil Nadu, which has heralded many health sector ameliorations in the country, has been polio-free for a decade now.
It was in February 2004 that the last case of polio was recorded in the southern Tenkasi, in Tamil Nadu. In fact, after three years of zero incidence, cases reappeared in 2003, and 2004, mostly among children of migrant groups. Subsequently, the State initiated a special campaign to target the migrant population.
“Tamil Nadu continues to play a very important role in India’s polio eradication programme that should be duly acknowledged,” says Satish Kumar, Chief - UNICEF Office for Tamil Nadu & Kerala. The State has shown sustainable strategic approaches to keep the region polio-free, including improving routine immunisation coverage and putting in place a robust surveillance system for acute flaccid paralysis.
His colleague Vandana Bhatia, health specialist, agrees that the systems put in place in Tamil Nadu were definitely models.
Tamil Nadu has traditionally been at the forefront of public health advancements, especially in vaccine - preventable infectious conditions, adds K. Kolandaisamy, Director of Public Health.
“For instance, we were the first in the country to eliminate small pox,” he says.
For decades now, the State has worked on improving immunisation coverage, and has set up a good cold chain network, essential for preservation of vaccines.
Pradeep Haldar, assistant commissioner, Immunisation, Health Ministry, says , “When we look at the country as a whole, many States (including Tamil Nadu and Kerala), did not require a high level of coverage as, for instance, Western Uttar Pradesh did.” He adds, however, that there can be no complacency in any part of the country. “The polio virus really does not know boundaries. As long as it is alive in some part of the world, the chances of it being imported to India remain.”
Dr. Kolandaisamy also cautions: “With this milestone, the risk has come down substantially. But Pakistan, Nigeria and Afghanistan still have polio cases. With migration of people high, we have to be alert.” Dr. Bhatia says it is all the more essential to remain vigilant, even as we move to newer methods of immunisation.
“Regular campaigns on polio immunisation may not be needed in India once it is certified as polio-free,” Dr. Satish Kumar said. “But since the risk remains, we await specific policy guidelines on frequency of organising National Immunisation Days in campaign mode in the situation.”