Keeping the polio virus at bay

India achieved a monumental milestone, with the South-East Asia Region of World Health Organization being certified polio-free on 27 March 2014. The last case of polio in India was reported on 13 January 2011. Since then the country has remained free of any case of wild poliovirus. It is an unprecedented achievement for a country, which until 2009 accounted for more than half the world’s polio incidence.

Speaking about this important milestone for the country, WHO Representative to India, Dr Nata Menabde, said, “This landmark is a great credit to the strong commitment and leadership of the Government of India.”

“Credit also goes to the government’s strong partnership with WHO, Rotary and UNICEF as also the millions of frontline workers – the vaccinators, social mobilizers and community and health workers – who continue to implement innovative strategies to rid India of polio,” she added.

Dr Menabde also cautioned that despite this historic progress, there can be no room for complacency.

“We have in fact redoubled our efforts to maintain the highest level of vigil as the risk of polio virus importation persists from polio endemic and re-infected countries,” she said.

In view of the continuing risk, all children up to five years of age need to be protected against polio until polio is eradicated globally. The programme is making all possible efforts to maintain high population immunity against polio through mass polio immunization campaigns and increased routine immunization coverage.

The programme continues to focus and reach out to the most vulnerable migrant, mobile, underserved and marginalized populations, the new born and children in the high-risk areas.

To rapidly detect poliovirus importation, India’s surveillance for polio, supported by WHO, continues to be extremely sensitive, surpassing the globally recommended standards.

The programme in India is in a state of readiness to respond to any poliovirus importation as a public health emergency, if it were to occur.

As a part of the risk mitigation strategy, the government of India has decided that all travelers from the polio endemic and re-infected countries should receive oral polio vaccine at least four to six weeks before their departure to India.

To help eradicate polio globally, India continues to share its experiences and best practices with the polio endemic and re-infected countries.

The certification process

Certification of polio eradication is conducted on a regional basis. Each WHO Region can consider certification only when all countries in the area demonstrate the absence of wild poliovirus transmission for at least three consecutive years in the presence of certification standard surveillance. In addition, all facilities holding wild poliovirus infectious and potentially infectious materials must have implemented bio-containment measures according to the global action plan for laboratory containment of wild poliovirus

India: Some facts

  • Last wild poliovirus type 1 (WPV1) case: 13 January 2011, Howrah, West Bengal
  • Last wild poliovirus type 2 (WPV2) case: 24 October 1999, Aligarh, Uttar Pradesh
  • Last wild poliovirus type 3 (WPV3) case: 22 October 2010, Pakur, Jharkhand