What's Behind India's Outbreak of Polio Paranoia

  • Share
  • Read Later

A ten-year-old polio victim in Bangalore, India

(2 of 2)

The result: India's health officials estimated recently that up to 15% of households with children in the western part of Uttar Pradesh state may have been skipped in recent vaccination drives. In a state with a very high population density and poor sanitation, that figure is large enough to ensure that polio — which spreads through contaminated water and contact with excrement — has made a comeback, just when it looked like the net was closing on it in India. Although 90% of India's districts are polio-free, the disease has spread out this year from its epicenter in western Uttar Pradesh to other parts. In March, sewage samples in three slum areas of Bombay, India's financial capital, found polio virus strains in the water. Earlier this week, a nine-year old Bombay girl was found to have got the polio virus, the first case in two years in the city.

Even more disturbing are the global implications of such paranoia. Dr. Jafari says that genetic analysis shows that the strain of polio from Uttar Pradesh, in the past couple of years, has left India, and spread to at least three African countries that had made great strides against polio — Angola, Namibia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This year, he says, the Uttar Pradesh strain of the polio virus has leapt out of India and reinfected two polio-free neighboring countries: Bangladesh and Nepal. "This shows that the continuation of polio in one country is a threat to all the world," he says.

Some countries are taking the renewed threat of polio very seriously. Last year, Saudi Arabia announced that all travelers from countries with polio, under the age of 15, would have to show valid proofs of vaccination before they got a visa to enter the country. India's health minister, Anbumani Ramadoss, stung by criticism, announced recently that that he will step up his government's efforts to eliminate polio in the country — and make a special effort to reach out to India's Muslims. "We are going to have a special program to enlighten them," he told the press recently, adding he would be meeting Islamic leaders in Uttar Pradesh to figure out how he could dispel Muslim anxieties about the polio vaccine. Unless he can, many more parents in India, and throughout the world, will start grappling with their own worries about a disease they thought had been conquered.

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. Next