But warns against importations of virus circulating in Pakistan, Afghanistan & Nigeria
Aditi Tandon, Tribune News Service
New Delhi, February 25. Hailing India’s anti-polio efforts, the World Health Organisation (WHO) today took the country off the list of nations with active endemic wild polio virus transmission. That leaves only Pakistan, Nigeria and Afghanistan on the list.
Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad broke the news after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh opened the two-day Polio Summit this morning.
“The WHO has taken India’s name off the list of polio-endemic countries in view of the remarkable progress made during the past year,” Azad said as the PM credited the feat to 23 lakh volunteer vaccinators who work to cover every single child. That led to an unprecedented 99.3 per cent immunisation coverage in the problematic states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar last year.
The PM today hinted at increased public spending on health with the WHO pegging the global deficit for polio eradication at $1.09 billion. “The 12th Plan will be one of health and education. We need to increase public expenditure on health to 2.5 per cent of the GDP,” the PM said.
He, for the first time, stressed on cashless OPD health care in government hospitals as recommended by the Planning Commission’s expert group on Universal Health Coverage (UHC).
“We need to work towards hassle-free and cashless OPD care in public hospitals and accelerate efforts to achieve universal health care for all. Two-thirds of private health care expenditure is on outpatients, diagnostic care and medicines. Insurance schemes mainly target in-patient care. We need to work towards cashless OPD care in public hospitals,” the PM said.
India’s removal from the polio-endemic nation list follows a year of zero infections. The last case, detected on January 13, 2011, involved Rukhsar Khatoon of West Bengal’s Howrah district. The child had never received polio drops.
WHO’s recognition comes with a warning. Assistant Director General, Polio, WHO, Bruce Aylward, who is here for the summit, said India must guard against importation of the virus circulating in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria.
“India has a high risk of importation. Till the virus is circulating in other countries, it can return by the same route it went.
China saw an outbreak in October 2011 after 10 polio-free years.
The virus was traced to Pakistan and infected 21 persons aged four months to 53 years. The risk of importation is as significant as the risk of resurgence. We recommend vaccinating everyone who are moving to and fro between endemic countries,” said Dr Aylward.
Pakistan had 198 infections in 2011 and 11 so far in 2012. Afghanistan had 80 cases last year and Nigeria had 27 cases in 2011 and three so far in 2012. By 2011, the world had only four polio-endemic countries but over 40 countries saw importations.
India has come a long way since 1999 when the last wild polio virus 2 was reported globally from UP’s Aligarh district. “That’s what makes today’s accomplishment special,” Aylward said.
The WHO last month declared a public health emergency plan for global eradication of polio. The plan seeks to help Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan reach necessary coverage to stop the transmission of polio virus by the end of 2012 and sustain the anti-polio momentum in Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola which saw outbreaks (lasting over a year) from imported viruses.
India’s removal from the polio-endemic list follows a year of zero infections. The last case was detected on January 13, 2011 in West Bengal’s Howrah district. Rukhsar Khatoon had never received polio drops.
India has come a long way since 1999 when the last wild polio virus 2 was reported globally from UP’s Aligarh district In 1988, half of the world’s 3.5 lakh children paralysed annually by polio were in India.