On Monday, India marked three years since its last reported polio case, a landmark in the global battle against the disease. While it’s seen as confirmation of one of India’s biggest public health successes, achieved through a massive and sustained immunisation programme, experts said improving infrastructure for sanitation should be made a priority for a long-term polio-free status.
In 2012, the World Health Organisation removed India from the list of polio-endemic countries.
Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria remain on it. The list refers to countries where the virus is circulating freely and transmission of the infectious disease hasn’t been stopped.
Dr Ashok Rathod, head of department of paediatrics at JJ hospital, said, “Government should now concentrate on building a robust infrastructure for sanitation, apart from providing potable drinking water. We had a very successful polio immunisation programme that will continue with its good work.”
Experts said that while it is a proud moment for the country, it is high time injectable vaccination is included in the national polio immunisation programme.
“Injectable vaccine is definitely a safer option for children. The government, however, resorts to oral vaccination as India is a populous country and infrastructure as well as logistics to reach ever nook and corner is a major challenge,” said Rathod.
Agreeing with Rathod, Dr Nitin Shah, former president of Indian Academy of Pediatrics, said, “It is a rare complication, but VDPV (vaccine-derived polio virus) does exist. As wild polio virus isn’t there in the country anymore, it is an ethical dilemma whether or not oral vaccination should be stopped. Moreover, the injectable vaccine, if given along with the oral one, does not cause VDPV.”
The WHO, however, is yet to certify on India’s polio-free status. “The regional certification committee will meet in Delhi on March 25-27, where it will review the data of all 11 Southeast Asian countries and decide on certifying India as a polio-free country. We are also waiting for the results on acute flaccid paralysis cases reported till January 13. Only after they come, by the end of this month, we will know about India’s polio-free status,” said a WHO officer in India.