On the Road to a Polio-Free South-East Asia

12/01/2012 - Bangladesh has undertaken a nationwide polio vaccination campaign, as it will until its neighbour, India, is declared polio-free—which could happen officially in as little as two years.

Bangladesh is hoping to keep itself polio-free, as its South Asian peer, India, aims to do the same.

The country’s prime minister aims for all children under five years old to be vaccinated against polio.

“Even if a kid remains unattended, the whole program will go in vain,” said Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

One the main challenges in including all children in the campaign is accessing hard-to-reach migrant populations along the border with India.

Polio is endemic in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria and, Bangladesh’s neighbour, India. Children under the age of five are most commonly affected.

Poliomyelitis (polio) is a virus that enters the body in the mouth through food and drink contaminated with faecal matter from an infected individual. It reproduces in the intestines and can cause fever, fatigue, headache, vomiting, stiffness and paralysis in one in every 200 cases. Of those paralyzed, 5-10 per cent die when their breathing muscles are frozen because of the paralysis.

While there is no cure, the spread of the infectious disease can be prevented with vaccines.

At the moment, Bangladesh is working through mobile medical teams and “child-to-child” searches to vaccinate the half a million children left out of a national vaccination campaign held earlier this month. Health workers will also give children between the ages of one and five vitamin A supplements and anti-worm tablets.

Arun Bhadra Thapa is the World Health Organization (WHO) in-country representative. She explained that the campaign had an ultimate goal of reaching 222 million children, the IRIN reports.

Bangladesh will conduct further vaccination drives next month.

From 1995 to 2004, health authorities also conducted national polio vaccinations. No infections have been reported since 2006, when an imported strain of the virus (probably from the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh) broke out. Until India has been declared polio-free, Bangladesh will continue to administer the vaccine on an annual basis.

If all goes well, Bangladesh may not have to wait too long. India’s last recorded case of polio was in the West Bengal state on 13 January 2011. Because of the large population, migration and poor hygiene and sanitation, eradicating polio has been a difficult task.

But, tomorrow, India will—for the first time ever—reach the one-year mark without any child being paralyzed by polio. It will have had no reported cases of polio if all samples at the lab return negative in the next few weeks.

Two more years without a reported case and India will be declared polio free, Business Week reports. Three more years and the South East Asian region will also be declared polio-free.