The invaders are not humans, yet they travel real fast and wide only through humans. I am talking about the new strain of a Polio virus called WPV1, which has proved to be the most dangerous polio strain found yet.
If we just have a look at the history of this disease, during the past, the scourge had spread itself wide and deep all over the world. For example, in 1985, there were 3.5 million polio affected children, spread over 125 nations of the world. A world wide service organization, Rotary International, came forward for the first time in that year to face this scourge on a world wide basis. During next few years, World Health Organization, a subsidiary of United Nations, took it up as a project, and Rotary decided to offer all help to WHO. During last Twenty Five years, work done by both these organizations has been so effective that except for Pakistan and Afghanistan, in all other countries, the newly registered polio cases this year, can be counted by fingers of the hand.
Speaking about India, approximately 75 million children below age of 5 years are immunized each year in the country. During first 8 months of 2011, only one case ( a case registered in state of West Bengal) has been detected so far. The health authorities of the Government of India must have heaved a sigh of relief after having controlled this horrendous demon effectively. Unfortunately, now it appears, that their joy might be short lived.
China was declared a Polio free country more than a decade ago or in 1999. For last decade, no Polio case was detected anywhere on the Chinese land. This year however, all of a sudden, 7 Polio case have been detected near about the city of Hotan in the western Chinese state of Xinjiang. This news has naturally caused much concern in China and that country plans to immunize as many as 4.5 million children from this area. Genetic analysis carried out by Chinese health workers have revealed that the virus strain is of type WPV1 and it has originated from Pakistan.
In Pakistan itself, there have been as many as 84 Polio cases, out of which 83 cases are of this WPV1 virus.
It appears that this particular virus strain is known to spread very rapidly and affects highest number of children. From Indian point of view, what could be considered as most dangerous aspect of this spread in Pakistan is the fact that many cases have been detected in regions adjoining Indian boundary. Pakistan Government plans to immunize 21.3 million children covering 62 districts completely and few high risk areas in 31 districts from Punjab, Sindh, parts of Baluchistan, Islamabad and border areas with Afghanistan. At present many areas in Sindh are under water due to floods. These areas would not be covered.
The sudden increase in number of Polio cases across border, have started ringing alarm bells in India, particularly in border state of Punjab. The health authorities in India are having sleepless nights thinking about this invasion from the North-East and how to effectively counter it. Health authorities have erected immunization booths at all border crossing points such as Bagha and Attari. Each and every child under age of 5 years, who wants to cross the border on foot or by bus or train, would be given a mandatory immunization dose of Polio vaccine for next 4 months.
I have been thinking about this sudden spurt in Polio cases this year. It is obvious to me that we cannot classify the world now into two classes; those with polio cases and those without. This classification has lost all its meaning this year, after re emergence of Polio on Chinese mainland. We can now only have either a world without Polio or otherwise.
In India, we must fight this invader from the North West. It is a fight to the finish.
21 September 2011