Polio-free year for India

doi:10.1038/nindia.2012.3 Published online 13 January 2012

India's postal stamp on polio immunisation.

India announced being polio-free for one whole year today, pledging to remain "alert and vigilant" to keep the Poliomyelitis virus away forever.

The country reported the last case of polio on 13 January, 2011 from the state of West Bengal.

Describing the polio-free year as a milestone, Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare Ghulam Nabi Azad cautioned that there was no room for complacency.

The country must ensure there is no case of polio for the next three consecutive years to declare 'eradication' of poliomyelitis. Once all specimens from acute flaccid paralysis cases and sewage samples up to mid-January are tested in the laboratories and no wild poliovirus is detected, India will come off the WHO list of polio endemic countries.

India accounted for 741 cases — nearly half the global cases — only in 2009. "This giant leap towards polio containment in a short span of two years is an endorsement of India's tireless and persistent efforts," Azad pointed out.

The landmark had been achieved with judicious resource allocation, continuous efforts to reach out to the most vulnerable children with tailored strategies, optimum use of available vaccines under the guidance of top national and international experts, he added.

India has spent more than Rs 12,000 crore on the state-run Pulse Polio Programme. The country introduced bivalent polio vaccine (bOPV) in January 2010 and tapped the domestic market for timely supply of vaccine to ensure pulse polio rounds without interruptions. The more efficacious monovalent oral polio vaccines were introduced in the Pulse Polio campaigns in 2005 which helped curtail the most dangerous type 1 polio strains to record low levels by 2009.

In 2010, the bivalent oral polio vaccine was introduced which helped curtail both Type 1 and Type 3 polioviruses simultaneously and as efficaciously as the monovalent vaccines, a health ministry release said.

However, the threat of polio persists. India exported poliovirus to other countries in the past and is now at risk of poliovirus importation. "The key challenge now is to ensure any residual or imported poliovirus in the country is rapidly detected and eliminated," the release said.

UNICEF Polio ambassador and India's superstar Amitabh Bachchan appeared in a video to congratulate vaccinators, health workers, community mobilisers, parents and caregivers for overcoming a variety of challenges and obstacles in the hardest-to-reach areas.

The mammoth Polio Eradication Programme in India has been a collaborative effort between the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, WHO's National Polio Surveillance Project (NPSP), UNICEF, Rotary International, and the U.S. Centres for Disease Control.