New Delhi, India has made substantial progress in curbing the spread of polio with just 82 cases reported in the first half of this year compared to 676 last year, says WHO.
Of the 82 polio cases till June 25, over 50 cases were from Uttar Pradesh and 17 from Bihar, it says.
'The total global cases of polio in 2007 is 213 compared with 585 for the same period in 2006,' said a WHO report.
'The exhaustive immunisation drive by India is quite encouraging. The government, WHO, NGOs and religious leaders are working in tandem to battle the disease,' said V. Cherian, a senior health coordinator of the UN body.
Polio eradication programme authorities say though Ghaziabad on the outskirts of Delhi reported six cases last week, people in the national capital should not panic.
'Last year Ghaziabad district alone had 24 cases of polio but this year we have just eight. Moreover all the eight cases are due to P-3 virus, which generally remains restricted to the region,' an official of the polio eradication programme told IANS.
He said unlike last year, the number of P-1 virus cases - the more virulent variety - is less. This year, of the 82 cases reported, 44 were of the P-3 virus and the rest of P-1 virus. P-2 virus polio was eradicated globally by 1999.
According to Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss, the core districts of western Uttar Pradesh, where the alarming polio outbreak occurred last year, have not had a single case of P-1 virus for the last six months - the longest period so far.
'Though the type 3 polio virus cases are up slightly, they remain restricted to the region. The poliovirus transmission has also been low in Bihar,' Ramadoss told IANS last week.
The minister said frequent immunisation rounds using a monovalent polio vaccine in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar had checked the spread of the disease this year. The focus has been on reaching the youngest children, especially newborns, in the highest risk areas.
'We and our state governments are telling villagers to take special care of sanitation. Polio is a health menace and has nothing to do with any religion and we appeal to all religious leaders to lend their support to wipe out polio from India,' he said.
The ministry has also asked the Bihar and Uttar Pradesh governments to engage regularly with their district administrations to keep a tab on the immunisation drive and curb any irregularities.
It's not India alone where polio cases are on the decline. In four endemic countries - India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria - only 179 cases have been reported this year as against 539 cases during the same period in 2006.
In Afghanistan, three cases of polio have surfaced this year as against 13 in 2006 and in Somalia eight cases have surfaced as against 25 during the same period last year. India's neighbours like Bangladesh and Nepal have not reported even a solitary case.
According to data available with WHO, there were a total of 1,998 cases of polio in 2006 across the world.