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Nation almost polio-free, say experts

No new case for a year due to government campaign and drugs

Bijay Kumar Minj, New Delhi

January 13, 2012

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India, once a major sufferer from polio, has achieved a major milestone with not a single new case reported for a year, health experts said yesterday. Lieven Desomer, head of the polio unit at UN children's agency UNICEF in India said a concerted government campaign against wild polio made it possible in a country which had recorded 150,000 polio cases in 1985. He said a new and more efficient oral vaccine against the affliction introduced in 2010 also contributed greatly. In 2010, 42 cases were registered in comparison with 741 the previous year. “It is a big achievement and a good development but that does not mean we can relax at this point”, Father Mathew Abraham, Secretary, Catholic Bishop’s Conference ofIndia’s health care office said today. “We have to work harder to eradicate the disease completely as it can resurface any time,” he said. Father Abraham said the Church was part of the government’s initiative to fight polio and it will remain as a partner. Being the second largest health provider after the government, the Church has always been in the forefront in the fight against any kind of disease, he added. India, which until recently accounted for half the polio cases in the world, is one of four countries -- with Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria -- where the disease is still officially endemic. But if all laboratory tests for the wild polio virus return negative in January,India will be removed from the list. “We are excited and hopeful, at the same time, vigilant and alert," federal Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad said in a statement. According to UNICEF, the northern states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh were the most vulnerable states. T Jacob John, former professor of clinical virology in the Christian Medical College, Vellore, said for certification of eradication, two more years should pass without any case of wild virus polio. Poliovirus can remain silently in circulation for short periods; so complacency must not set in, he added. "This achievement goes to prove that any health issue, however gargantuan it may be, can be easily tackled with persistent effort and commitment," said Father Tomi Thomas, Director General, The Catholic Health Association of India. Related links: Rise In Bihar Polio Cases Worries Church Workers  
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