New Delhi, May 16: Union health minister Sushma Swaraj will inspect the polio immunisation programme in Bengal on June 1, which is to be marked as national polio immunisation day.
“I will be in Calcutta that day,” said Swaraj after a meeting with health ministers and secretaries of 10 polio-afflicted states. She had summoned state officials to Delhi to review the immunisation drive that began on April 6 and to assess preparations for the second round of immunisation on June 1.
“We want India to be polio-free by 2005,” she said. She added that the return of the disease on such a big scale had given the country a bad name. The number of polio cases in the country has shot up from 268 to 1,630 between 2000 and 2002.
Since February, Bengal has topped the list of polio-affected states with 11 cases. It has overtaken Uttar Pradesh which recorded eight.
“West Bengal health minister Surjya Kanta Mishra, who was here to attend the meeting, invited Sushma Swaraj to come and see the programme,” a health ministry official said. “The state government now seems to be concerned enough to tackle the problem on a war footing.”
The official said Murshidabad district, which earlier reported a large number of polio cases, seems to be free of the disease right now. But Calcutta, South and North 24-Parganas and Tamluk continue to report cases. “Murshidabad has demonstrated clearly that adequate will and action can remove polio,” said Shobhan Sircar, an official in charge of the polio immunisation programme.
Bihar, Delhi, Gujarat, Haryana, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Uttaranchal and Orissa have reported polio cases apart from Bengal and Uttar Pradesh. “The Uttar Pradesh chief minister, Mayavati, is taking the matter very seriously. She holds a meeting every Monday to discuss the issue,” Swaraj said.
The minister added not a single child was left out of the immunisation loop in the 16 badly-affected districts of Uttar Pradesh during the April 6 immunisation drive. Mishra, too, had exchanged views with other states, she said.
“It was a motivational meeting.”
In a renewed effort to eradicate polio, the government has decided to have six rounds of immunisation throughout the year. There will be two national immunisation days and four sub-national days for states where the disease has returned.
The polio virus grows strong with the onset of monsoon. “So before June ends we want to strengthen children’s immunisation systems so that they are able to withstand the virus,” Swaraj said.
The minister said it had been proved that resistance to polio increases if a new-born is vaccinated. “Immunisation works much better if a child is vaccinated between 0-5 years ” Swaraj said.