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India gearing up to be declared polio free by 2014

New Delhi: Having made unprecedented progress in polio eradication, India is now gearing up to be declared polio free by 2014 by guarding itself against the import of polio virus from neighbouring countries and by boosting routine immunisation.

Earlier this year, the World Health Organisation (WHO) had removed India from the list of polio-endemic countries. If no fresh case is reported till 2014, the country will be declared polio free.

"However, the risk of polio persists as long as poliovirus transmission continues anywhere in the world," says Dr Ajay Khera, Deputy Commissioner at the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, while pointing out that among the remaining polio endemic countries of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria, two of them are with close proximity to India.

Regular Polio immunisation is being carried out at five border points along the Indo-Pak border, at Baramulla and Poonch in Jammu and Kashmir, Attari and Wagah in Punjab and Munabo in Rajasthan.

To raise public awareness on the ravages of polio and garner support for eradication efforts, World Polio Day will be observed tomorrow across the globe.

The health ministry, along with its partners in World Health Organisation (WHO), Unicef and Rotary International, are taking special efforts across the country, particularly in the high-risk areas and among high-risk groups for polio – such as migrant and mobile populations – to ensure they are reached with polio vaccines.

The government has an Emergency Preparedness and Response Plan in place and is totally geared to roll out a rapid and intense response to any case of poliovirus importation anywhere in the country, officials said. .

With its 6,500-member strong Social Mobilisation Network (SMNet) working with the most underserved communities and in the highest risk areas of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, Unicef is focusing on strengthening routine immunisation.

"One of the biggest risks to the programme today is complacency. We need to ensure that the programme continues to be of the highest quality, to maximise childhood immunity to polio across the country and minimise the threat of virus importation," says Lieven Desomer, Chief Polio, Unicef India.

The SMNet community mobilisers are engaged in door-to- door counselling, community meetings as well as tracking and counselling of the families who have dropped out of routine immunisation.

"We continue to counsel parents on the need to protect their children against polio and address associated risk factors such as hygiene, sanitation, nutrition and diarrhea management," says the officer.

Siddhartha S Bose from the Indian National Polio Plus Committee run by Rotary International says, "We need strong vigilance on the borders so that the virus doesn't return to India. The threat is still there".

India has not reported any case of polio for over a-year -and-a-half, after an 18-month-old girl was crippled by polio in West Bengal?s Howrah district in January 2011.

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