In a meeting of the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee, the World Health Organization (WHO) voiced its concern over the international spread of wild polio virus. Indian travellers to high-risk polio endemic countries, including neighbours Pakistan and Afghanistan, will need to get vaccinated before visiting them, officials said.
WHO, in its latest assessment of polio-stricken nations globally, has declared polio as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC), and this has rung alarm bells for India as 10 countries, including Pakistan and Afghanistan, have come under WHO scrutiny.
Though polio strikes children, the WHO statement said adult travellers were at fault for its spread. "By the end of 2013, 60% of polio cases were the result of international spread of the wild polio virus, and there was increasing evidence that adult travellers contributed to this spread," said the statement.
All travellers flying in and out of the 10 countries — Afghanistan, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Israel, Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia and the Syrian Arab Republic — should be vaccinated against polio, the statement said.
It further said any visitor who intends to stay over four weeks in any of these countries should receive a dose of oral or injectible polio virus vaccine between four weeks and a year before international travel.
Those who are undertaking urgent travel or are frequent travellers should vaccinate themselves before departure. Also, an immunisation certificate will have to be acquired to be shown as proof of being vaccinated before entering or leaving endemic countries.
What may worry India the most is that Pakistan still remains a hotbed for polio infection with spike in cases from 58 in 2012 to 92 in 2013. In Afghanistan, 14 cases were reported in 2013. From 3 lakh cases in the 1980s worldwide, the count has reduced to 417 cases prevailing annually across the globe last year.
WHO declared India polio-free in March this year and, shortly after, sounded a global alert citing polio as a public health emergency. Any complacency in stepping down surveillance will cost India dear, WHO officials have maintained.
"We backtracked the origin of the virus to the country it belongs to by genetic sequencing methods. Pakistan is a big concern for India because it is so close and because we have seen a rising number of cases from there in 2013. India remains vulnerable to polio as a chance of cross-country transfer and import of virus exists. It can't afford to be complacent until such time that no cases are reported in neighbouring countries," WHO country head Dr Nata Menabde told dna.
Three of the 10 currently infected nations have been pivotal in spreading the virus in 2014 — the virus has spread in central Asia from Pakistan to Afghanistan, in the Middle East from Syrian Arab Republic to Iraq, and in Central Africa from Cameroon to Equatorial Guinea
India has not reported a case of wild polio virus (WPV) in the past three years
The last known case of WPV was that of an 18-month-old girl in 2011 from West Bengal