I got to know about this outbreak late. Mainly because I have been traveling over the last two-three weeks and have not been following news regularly (thats also the reason there wasn't any new post on the blog for so many days). I first read about it in the leading front-page story of "The Telegraph" yesterday. But after that I noticed one mail from my friend in my mailbox that gave a link to an Indian Express report on the government's explanation of the rise in Polio cases. Coming from the Government spokespersons, it naturally attributes it to kids who give polio drive a miss. It does not stop there, it goes on to target the Muslim community in particular: "Another problem that the government has to deal with is that UP's large Muslim minority are reluctant to get their children immunized because of rumours that polio drops are part of a Western conspiracy to make their children sterile. Nearly 70% of the cases are from minority communities.."
My friend can't hide his anger:
"Those who do these based on pseudo-scientific reasoning are doing unpardonable crime and
irreversible damage to their children."
"Indiaâ€™s health bureaucracy ignored scientific advice about flaws in the polio immunisation programme for nearly 20 years and suppressed research that might have led to faster eradication, doctors have said.." [Polio botch-up blame at Delhi door, http://www.telegraphindia.com/1060924/asp/frontpage/story_6786709.asp]
In scientific papers and interviews to The Telegraph, they said India's failure to eradicate polio also stems from wrong decisions on dosage and choice of vaccine..." the report continues.
"The number of polio cases in India has surged this year to 297 after a steady decline for years and a record low of 66 last year.""Children who got as many as 10 doses have still got polio in Uttar Pradesh this year."
"John believes policy-makers displayed an unscientific bias towards OPV over the inactivated injectible polio vaccine (IPV) that has been shown through studies as superior in many ways."
"In a paper three years ago in the Proceedings of the Indian National Science Academy, John suggested there might have been an effort to suppress findings about IPV's advantages. His own studies comparing IPV with OPV in Tamil Nadu were approved by the Centre on the condition that he would not publish the results.""Another pediatrician in a government medical college in New Delhi told The Telegraph that he was discouraged from studying IPV."
[Images from The Telegraph report]
Now we'll try to check the science and "pseudo-science" in the claims and counter-claims. Last month when we talked about not vaccinating Aadil, I had promised to come back with the arguments against the Oral Polio Vaccines, popularly known as "Pulse Polio" (Amitabh Bachchan and Sachin Tendulkar come on the mini screen often to coax us to give our children the two drops of life).
One of the main arguments of the anti-OPV drive in Kerala was that OPV is discontinued in most developed countries. In USA, the Oral Vaccine was banned in 1999 following a case of "Vaccine caused Parallysis". (Read about one such case at http://www.ryar.org/news/07-28-05.html. The campaigns have documented similar cases reported in India/Kerala as well).
A "Science Daily" report admits that OPV runs such a risk, but says that it can be overcome by "proper coverage" (A 2004 outbreak of polio in China traced back to live attenuated oral polio vaccine (OPV), which is widely used in global eradication efforts, highlights the small but significant risk to eradication posed by the use of OPV at suboptimal rates of coverage.., http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/08/060815160951.htm)
When this became a debate in India, the Government's stand was that if all the children in the country are given the vaccine at the same time (yes-- same time, not the same day), it was safe. Can one get any more unrealistic?
Oral Polio Vaccine is no longer recommended, says one US health brochure (pdf).
And now, check this:
- Despite the figues showing the Polio cases on the decline in the countries that are on the OPV drive now (India, Pakistan, China, some African countries), the figures (the official ones itself) of Non-Polio AFPs (Accute Flaccid Parallysis, cases of polio-like diseases), is showing an exponential rise in all these countries.
- In India, The number of cases of non-Polio AFPs rose from 772 in 1996 to 27,000 in 2004 (the polio figures dropped from 1105 to 136 in the same period).