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Last Updated: Thursday, 21 September 2006, 15:59 GMT 16:59 UK
India plans huge anti-polio push
By Geeta Pandey
BBC News, Delhi

Polio baby
A health worker in India gives polio drops to a baby
India is preparing to launch a massive programme to contain the spread of polio, the government says.

Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss made the announcement in Delhi at emergency talks between officials of eight states which have recorded new polio cases.

A total of 297 cases of the disease have been reported this year, the vast majority in northern Uttar Pradesh state, and 23 children have died.

Only 66 polio cases were recorded in India during the whole of last year.

A large number of children were somehow missed during last year's immunisation drive in Uttar Pradesh
Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss

A highly infectious disease, polio usually attacks children under five. It affects the nervous system and can result in paralysis.

The disease is transmitted through contaminated food and drinking water, contact with faeces from an infected person or contaminated swimming pool water.

Polio has been wiped out in most places but remains a threat, particularly in India, Pakistan and Nigeria.

Polio among Muslims

Health officials say Uttar Pradesh, where 269 cases of the disease have been recorded, is particularly worrying.

Mr Ramadoss said "a large number of children were somehow missed during last year's immunisation drive in Uttar Pradesh".

But after the polio cases were reported, he said, "the state machinery has started acting and the number of cases has been on the decline since May".

Another key concern is the high incidence of Muslims with the disease.

Mr Ramadoss said 70% of the infections were among Muslims, while the remaining 30% have been reported from the Hindu community.

Health ministry officials say rumours that the polio vaccine is actually a form of birth control and part of a Western conspiracy to reduce the Muslim birth rate have led to many families shunning it in Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh.

Mr Ramadoss said the government had already started campaigns to inform and educate the public.

The health ministry has roped in clerics and community leaders to reach out to Muslims and assure them that the vaccine can save the lives of their children.

Mr Ramadoss will also be visiting Uttar Pradesh next month to meet community leaders.

Stumbling block

Before 1988, when the World Health Organisation (WHO) launched a global anti-polio campaign, there were more than 350,000 cases worldwide.

Today the disease has been eradicated in much of the world but is still found in some countries.

As of 12 September this year, 1,228 cases of polio had been recorded globally.

With its 297 cases, India is seen as a big stumbling block in the eradication drive.

A strain of the disease, which originated in Uttar Pradesh state, has also travelled to the neighbouring countries of Nepal and Bangladesh.

It has also infected people in faraway African countries such as Angola, Namibia and Congo.

The WHO has written to the Indian health minister, seeking a meeting.

Mr Ramadoss said he may be going to Geneva for the meeting, but did not give a date.

Polio campaign targets Pakistan
21 Apr 04 |  Health
WHO steps up polio fight
29 Jul 03 |  Health

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