Calcutta, Aug. 29: The polio outbreak sweeping the country, especially Uttar Pradesh, has crossed continents and become an international threat.
A global report on the disease says the strain of the poliovirus threatening an epidemic in India has been found in patients in countries as far away as Angola and Namibia in Africa as well as in South Asia.
The report puts India, where the incidence of polio has more than tripled from last year, second after Nigeria in the number of patients and brands it the world’s lone “exporter” of the disease.
“The current outbreak in and around Moradabad (in western Uttar Pradesh) is increasing the risk of national and international spread of wild polio virus. It is currently the only area of the world that is actively exporting poliovirus to other countries,” says the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, an umbrella effort by major world bodies fighting the disease, including the World Health Organisation (WHO), Unicef and the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Polio virus originating from this area of the world recently has been detected in Namibia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Bangladesh, Nepal, Angola as well as previously polio-free areas within India.”
WHO says that till August 28 this year, India had 244 polio patients, up from 66 at the end of 2005. Of these, more than 100 were diagnosed with the disease in the past one month, raising the count from 121 in the last week of July.
The number is expected to rise further by the year-end as the virus typically spreads after the wet season.
The National Polio Surveillance Project has identified patients in 35 districts across eight states, with Uttar Pradesh followed by Bihar in second place. Bengal, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh have reported a single case each although they were free of the disease in 2005.
“The situation in Uttar Pradesh, especially the western part of the state, has assumed epidemic proportions,” a ministry of health and family welfare official admitted.
“Western Uttar Pradesh, with its extremely poor sanitation, inadequate health services, religious dogma and lack of awareness has always been a hotspot for polio.”
Experts blame poor planning and execution of the polio eradication programme.
“We have to take a fresh look and re-orchestrate the campaign. Ill-conceived planning and its execution are prima facie responsible,” L.B. Prasad, director general (family welfare), Uttar Pradesh, told The Telegraph.
Professor K.J. Nath, former director of the All India Institute of Hygiene & Public Health, agrees: “This is definitely a failure in the planning and execution of the programme in Uttar Pradesh.” Other experts have called it a public health scandal.
In 2003, a confident India, having reduced the number of cases from 1,600 in 2002 to a more manageable 225, had pledged with the rest of the world to make the country polio-free by 2006.
Three years down the line, after spending thousands of crores on the programme, the country is again looking down the barrel.
Union health minister Anbumani Ramadoss has admitted in the Rajya Sabha that the nation cannot hope to wipe the disease out anytime soon.