Polio vaccine compulsory for those travelling to select countries

India is in no mood to risk the polio free status it achieved earlier this year

By Kundan Pandey
Published: Tuesday 04 March 2014

India has finally been declared free of polio after years of efforts to get rid of the crippling disease

Administration of Oral Polio Vaccine (OPV) is now mandatory for all those travelling between India and a few other countries where poliovirus still exists. The announcement was made by the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) and is effective from March 1.

According to the new guidelines, travellers coming from Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Syria, Kenya, Somalia, Nigeria or Pakistan will have to take OPV six weeks before departure from the country. Similarly, travellers moving from India to these polio-affected countries will also have to be administered the vaccine.
Anuradha Gupta, additional health secretary, said that the preventive measure had been initiated after recommendations by national and international expert bodies, including World Health Organization (WHO). “Years of efforts and huge financial resources have been invested by India to make the country polio free. We cannot risk importation of the virus, which is getting bigger and bigger with the recent outbreaks in West Asia and earlier in the horn of Africa region,” said the official. India has not reported any case of polio for over three years and is still to get the certificate from WHO. “A commission of experts will meet on March 26-27 to analyse the data and determine polio status for South East Asian region,” she added.

The risk of polio is more in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria, which continue to be polio-endemic. Pakistan has witnessed 21 cases of polio in 2014 so far while three cases have been reported in its neighboring country, Afghanistan. This may have compelled India to take such decision and make OPV compulsory for travellers.

In view of the persisting threat of poliovirus importation, the Independent Monitoring Board of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, an international body, recommended in its October 2013 report that International Health Regulations should be used to ensure that all people travelling from polio-endemic countries are required to get vaccination prior to travel, and this should be extended to any persistently affected country.

Earlier, in May 2013, the India Expert Advisory Group on polio eradication had recommended that the Government of India should strongly promote the current WHO polio immunisation recommendations for travellers to and from endemic or infected areas.

Strict measures in place

India is taking several other measures to mitigate the risk of poliovirus importation. Continuous polio immunisation posts have been set up along the international borders with Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Bhutan. High quality surveillance is in place to detect any untoward importation of poliovirus into India.
The government of India has declared that any case of poliovirus would be treated as an emergency. The emergency preparedness and response capacity is being reviewed on an ongoing basis and nearly 200 rapid response team members have been trained to roll out emergency response to polio.

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