Speaking at the meeting of Health Ministers of polio affected States organized today to review the status of polio eradication efforts, the Minister for Health & Family Welfare, Dr. Anbumani Ramadoss said that it is critical to sustain the high level of immunity in all polio-affected States by vaccinating all children under the age of five both through routine immunization and Supplementary Immunization Activities (SIAs), so that the polio virus does not get a chance to re-establish its circulation.
Besides the Minister of State for Health & Family Welfare, Smt. Panabaka Lakshmi, Health Ministers from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Uttranchal, Maharashtra, Delhi, Haryana and Gujarat and senior officials representing the States of Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan were present at the meeting. In addition, senior officials from the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, representatives from WHO, ICMR, UNICEF and Rotary International also participated in the discussions.
Appreciating the efforts made by the State Governments, the Minister said the number of polio cases have been lower - both during the peak and the trough of the last outbreak - as compared to 2002-2003. The core districts of western UP, responsible for the outbreak, have not had a single case of type 1 poliovirus for the last six months, the longest period so far. Though the type 3 poliovirus cases are up slightly, they remain geographically restricted to western UP. The poliovirus transmission has also been low in Bihar.
Since early this year, extraordinary efforts have been made in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar with frequent immunization rounds every four-week using a monovalent polio vaccine with the focus on reaching the youngest children specially the newborns, in the highest risk areas. Some areas in Bihar have already had six immunization rounds.
The programme has been integrated into the National Rural Health Mission and the community link workers (ASHA) are effectively involved for polio eradication. Social mobilisation initiatives have been expanded and intensified to reach out to all sections of the society, specially the marginalized. These measures together have improved the quality of immunization rounds.
In order to boost the immunity in children before the onset of high transmission season the May immunization round was extended to vulnerable states where the immunity level is comparatively low, like Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Assam, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Punjab and Haryana.
The Minister asked the States to be cautiously optimistic as the risks and challenges remain - of type 1 poliovirus spreading to other states. To further improve the quality of SIAs, the Minister asked the States to improve health infrastructure, fill the vacancies of Medical officers, Auxiliary Nurse Midwives (ANMs) and ASHAs.
The Minister asked the Health Ministers of UP and Bihar to strengthen political oversight and engagement to further improve and sustain the quality of the immunization rounds. He said regular interactions with district magistrates and health staff would be very productive to ensure the best quality programme.
As per the recommendation of the Indian Expert Advisory Group (IEAG) immunization rounds would be held in the high-risk areas in June, August and September followed by two rounds later in the year with monovalent vaccines.
"Our job now is to contain the disease from spreading further and to safeguard the significant progress made over the last few months" said Dr. Ramadoss. "We can do that with the strategy we have in place. The Ministers today gave their pledge to ensure that no children are left unimmunized in the crucial next few polio campaigns" and ensure achieving zero polio transmission by 2008.