A massive week-long drive to combat the dreaded polio disease will be launched in Hyderabad city from 20-26 June, after a sample of vaccine-derived polio virus (VDPV), a mutant of oral vaccine resistant, was detected at a sewage collection point in the city. The World Health Organization (WHO) had declared India polio free in March 2014, after the last polio case was reported in 1999.
Besides the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centre, officials of 15 states and a dozen other health bodies will be watching the drive. WHO’s South East Asia head of polio eradication programme Dr Sunil Bahal will be monitoring the vaccination drive, while several executives from health bodies of the United States and the EU will be observing it closely.
A high-level meeting of health officials in Hyderabad on Friday evening gave finishing touches to the vaccine injections programme, which will be conducted under the supervision of the Union Ministry of Health and the WHO. Telangana Health Minister Dr C. Lakshma Reddy, who presided over the meeting, told The Sunday Guardian over phone: “This is a sort of polio emergency.” As part of the drive, as many as three lakh children in the age group of 0-3 years will be administered injectable inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) in Hyderabad. The city is divided into 13 sectors and close to 100 medical teams and 2,500 personnel will be involved in the vaccination drive that is billed as first-of- its-kind in India. A mass media campaign is being launched to alert parents of children up to three years age.
The detection of VDPV in a city on 8 June from about 13 samples routinely collected from the city sewage system a month ago sent alarm bells in the health ministries both at the Centre and Telangana. The presence of the virus threatens the declaration of India as a polio-free country by the WHO in 2014. However, no fresh case of polio has been reported in the city. Though the present detection of VDPV is unlikely to change India’s polio-free status, it is fraught with the danger of “sliding” the status, if the vaccine is shows up in humans in more than one location over a period in the country, triggering endemic signs. The VDPV is treated as a low-risk virus which may not cause actual polio in children, officials told this newspaper. Normally, polio drops are administered orally to children in the 0-3 year age group twice a year at primary health centers and government hospitals. As the strain is a virus resistant to oral drops, the WHO has suggested that the vaccine will be given in injections, Telangana director of medical education Dr M. Ramani said.