The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Polio bomb ticks in Bengal

New Delhi, Feb. 9: The incidence of polio in West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat has not dropped significantly despite mounting pressure from the watchdogs of the pulse polio programme.

According to central officials in charge of the programme, the virus has “escaped through people” and assumed epidemic proportions in parts of the three states.

Among the affected regions are Murshidabad, South 24-Parganas, and north and south Calcutta in Bengal; Bhavnagar in Gujarat and the whole of Uttar Pradesh. The number of cases in Bengal is 47, Gujarat 35 and Uttar Pradesh 27.

On the eve of another round of pulse polio immunisation, health ministry officials on Friday briefed their new minister, Sushma Swaraj, who is expected to intervene in the matter.

The reasons for a resurgence of polio after it was brought under control a year ago differ in each state. Poor governance is to blame in Bengal, senior-level official positions lying vacant for long is to blame in Gujarat, and caste and religious prejudices and misconceptions in Uttar Pradesh.

“In Bengal, it was the complacence of the state government that triggered a fresh outbreak. The present number of 47 cases has broken the state’s record of the last four years when the infection was virtually rooted out,” an official said.

The official emphasised that unless Bengal tackled the problem effectively at this stage, there would be a “repeat” of Uttar Pradesh in Murshidabad.

A month ago, Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayavati had intervened in the implementation of the pulse polio programme, and the Prime Minister had summoned chief ministers of Bimaru states (Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh) to check their report cards on health and population stabilisation programmes. One of the subjects high on their discussion agenda was polio’s resurgence.

Uttar Pradesh is facing the toughest hurdle in implementing the pulse polio programme because the barrier of caste and superstition is deeply entrenched.

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