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Ghost of polio past

Ghost of polio past

A devastating piece of news flooded social media channels yesterday. Though its veracity is still being contested, a media house reported with confidence that India has exhausted its stock of vaccines and will not hold the next round of polio immunisation in the country. A variety of reasons has been assigned to this decision — first, the closing down of one among India's three domestic manufacturers of polio vaccine; second, a sharp rise of over 100 per cent in the price of vaccines; finally, an acute shortage in the disbursement of funds to the health sector. The Ministry of Health & Family Welfare has notified all states, except Bihar, Kerala and Madhya Pradesh, that the next scheduled vaccination of February 3 has now been postponed 'indefinitely' due to the unavailability of stocks on time. After the circulation of reports, the government did oppose the facts, stating that the postponement is only brief, delayed due to a better supervision of existing vials. This investigation of stocks has been necessitated after a glitch last year, when contaminated samples were found to be produced at one of the manufacturing units, Bio-Med Pvt Ltd, which was duly shut down. Nevertheless, that a notification has been sent out, demands attention. Polio had plagued India and a large section of the developing world in the mid-20th century. From 28,757 reported polio cases in 1987, India came down to zero new cases post 2011. Massive credit for this change goes to successful government intervention that has been carried out by dedicated health workers across the most remote corners of our country – particularly in harsh border terrains, where new migrants posed the greatest threat. Polio had crippled generations and it was a matter of true pride when India was declared a polio-free country by WHO in 2014. Today, in 2019, we are again witnessing the ghost of polio slipping into our lived reality. Polio vaccines are of two types: OPV is the primary vaccine that prevents polio and IPV is administered to strengthen a child's immunity and provide protection against the disease. OPV, manufactured in India, is witnessing acute shortage due to the close down of Bio-Med and IPV, which India purchases has been re-priced by UNICEF — from its earlier cost of Rs 61 per dose it now stands at ₹147 per dose and is expected to touch ₹177 per dose by 2020. In desperation, India has sought assistance from global organisation Gavi, which has already disbursed over Rs 1,100 crore to India for other vaccine subsidisation. In the face of this crisis, India must opt for better budget allocation. Health and education must accrue the highest government assistance, irrespective of who occupies Centre. Reports suggest that India is short of ₹280 crore to support its polio vaccination programme — a matter of shame given how we just spend ₹3,000 crore on a statue that does little to progress or protect our country.

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