New Delhi/Mumbai: India has been polio free for over a year. But the big danger now is a cross-border threat. Pakistan is seeing a sudden surge of new polio cases with the Taliban blocking the Polio vaccination drive in Waziristan.
There have been no polio cases detected in India for a year and a half now - a tremendous milestone that has left only Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria on the World Health Organisation's list of endemic countries. But a porous border has authorities worried.
Last week Pakistan reported five Polio cases on a single day, all of them were of the dangerous P1 strain. Given the porous border, this increases India's chances of a cross-border polio spread. Last year China reported a Polio outbreak after a gap of 10 years and the virus had spread from Pakistan.
In fact, the Health Ministry asked authorities to maintain a strict vigil across the Wagah border to check for polio patients, all of last year. Worldwide there have been a growing number of cases traced back to Pakistan and Nigeria.
Experts say that if a polio-free country becomes re-infected, the virus can spread like wildfire. This is precisely why the WHO declared polio eradication in the Pakistan region as an "emergency".
Deputy Commissioner of Immunisation in the Union Health Ministry Dr Pradeep Haldar said, "The government must make a policy that every Pakistani traveller, irrespective of age, or of vaccination status, must take a dose of OPV before travelling to India; like in Haj. A dose at the time of the visa plus a dose on the day of travel or something like that must be decided upon."
India needs a zero polio transmission for two more years to be declared polio free and the benefits are also financial. Once global polio eradication is achieved it would generate net benefits of $40 to 50 billion annually, according to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.