Polio Raises Its Head Again

polio.jpgPulse Polio, an immunization campaign was established by the Government of India in 1994 to eradicate poliomyelitis (polio) in India by vaccinating all children under the age of five, against polio virus. However, a sharp rise in polio cases in India’s largest state has raised fears of the return of a disease that the country was close to wiping out, just three years ago. The health outlook for millions of Indians for 2008 may not be all that bright as experts say that the country will continue battling major diseases like AIDS, polio, malaria and tuberculosis besides concerns like infant and maternal mortality. The World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Union Health Ministry were optimistic about curbing the polio virus. However, as the year 2007 drew to an end, India continued to be the hot bed for polio, with 590 cases as against 676 cases in 2006. This has dealt another blow to the already crumbling public health infrastructure and delivery. There have been no polio cases reported from Kerala and Punjab in 2007. On the other hand, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar top the list of the polio affected states in India.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has described Uttar Pradesh as the “epicenter of the polio epidemic” in the world. As per WHO estimates, the State accounts for 64 per cent of all polio cases reported worldwide. The increase has not just been due to mismanagement at the Government level; there are also other factors responsible for it. One such factor is the people’s apathy to such campaigns, which lack credibility. Besides, lack of information about the polio vaccine being administered and its availability is also greatly responsible for the increase.

An alarming factor is the resistance of people belonging to the minority community, especially those from the lower income groups, to vaccinate their children. Apparently, there is a belief that the polio vaccine causes impotency. Other factors responsible for the resurgence of the epidemic in Uttar Pradesh are the high density of population and the lack of awareness about the pulse polio campaign. Extensive publicity campaigns, involving film and cricket personalities, have mitigated the opposition to a great extent but still the cases are on the rise. It is very important for the Government to now formulate a proper strategy with the political and religious leaders alongside, to counter the rising cases of polio in Uttar Pradesh. Dispelling superstition should be accomplished by roping in local health workers to convince clerics who propagate against the vaccination drive. To control the menace from spreading its tentacles any further, we need to adopt a need-based approach and more scientific methods.

Rishabh Srivastava