Since March 1, administration of oral polio vaccine (OPV) six weeks before departure has become mandatory for all India-bound travellers from seven countries where polio cases are still being reported: Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Syria, Kenya, Somalia, Nigeria and Pakistan.

Indians headed for these countries will also be administered the vaccine.

“Years of efforts and huge financial resources have been invested by India in stopping polio in India. We cannot risk importation of poliovirus, which is getting bigger and bigger with the recent outbreaks in the Middle East and earlier in the Horn of Africa. This new preventive measure has been initiated as per the recommendations of the national and international expert bodies and the guidelines of the World Health Organisation” said Anuradha Gupta, Additional Secretary, Health Ministry.

India has not reported any case of polio for over three years. However, the risk of importation persists as Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria continue to be polio-endemic. Six countries were re-infected in 2013 and there were major polio outbreaks in the Horn of Africa and the Middle East.

In view of the threat, the Independent Monitoring Board of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative recommended in October 2013 that International Health Regulations be used to ensure all travellers from polio-endemic countries are vaccinated prior to travel.

In May 2013, the India Expert Advisory Group on Polio Eradication recommended that the country promote the current WHO immunisation recommendations for travellers to and from polio-endemic or infected areas. It said the most significant risk was importation of poliovirus from countries with endemic circulation. The possibility of outbreaks in non-endemic countries spreading to India could also not be discounted.

India has set up continuous immunisation posts along the borders with Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Bhutan. This year their number went up to 102, with nearly 4.2 million children immunised in the past two years.

India has declared that any case of poliovirus will be treated as an emergency. Emergency preparedness and response capacity are being reviewed on an-ongoing basis.