After success against polio, Govt to now focus on measles, neo-natal tetanus

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    Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare Ghulam Nabi Azad delivering the valedictory address at the Polio Summit 2012, in New Delhi on February 26, 2012.

    Emboldened by the success achieved in the fight against polio, the Government has now decided to try and completely eliminate measles-related deaths and neo-natal tetanus in the country and said routine immunization activities would be intensified through special drives, especially in the 207 districts recording low coverage.

    "Some of our learnings and lessons from the polio programme could prove to be extremely useful in accomplishing these tasks," Union Minister of Health & Family Welfare Ghulam Nabi Azad said in his valedictory address at the Polio Summit 2012 here today.

    Azad said that, though health was a State subject, the Union Government was constantly strengthening the hands of the State governments by way of Central funding under the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) and other Centrally-sponsored schemes.

    "With increasing public investments in health from our own domestic resources, what we need more from our partners is catalytic and technical support. I am confident that together we would be able to ensure that India not only becomes polio-free but that all our children are fully protected against every preventable disease," he said.

    The two-day conference was organised by the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare and Rotary International to celebrate one full polio-free year achieved by India recently.

    He informed the gathering that President Pratibha Patil, who launches the National Pulse Polio Programme every year by administering the first polio drops to children, had called him to Rashtrapati Bhavan today to convey her commendation to all concerned for the remarkable success achieved by India on this front.

    He assured the delegates from around the world that India would be most willing to lend all possible support for global eradication of polio. He hoped that countries such as Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria, where polio cases are still being reported, would be able to achieve similar success soon.

    "I am confident that the funding gap for global polio eradication initiative would be bridged and donors such as Rotary International, Gates Foundation and G8 countries would continue to be

    generous in supporting this important cause. So far as India is concerned, we remain committed to funding our programme fully with domestic funding," he said.

    "The journey from 200,000 polio cases every year to zero polio case for one full year has not been easy for India. In 1988 when the Global Polio Eradication Initiative was launched, out of 350,000 polio cases recorded globally, an estimated 200,000 cases happened in India alone. As recently as 2009, India accounted for 741 out of a total of 1,604 cases reported world-wide. Not surprisingly, many health experts predicted that India would be the last country to eradicate polio," he said.

    He recounted the many challenges the Government had to face in implementing the programme across the country.

    "Our success can be attributed to the progressive strengthening of our polio programme made possible by unflinching political commitment and provision of adequate financial resources. Beginning by covering 88 million children up to the age of 3 years in 1995, the programme has now expanded to cover 174 million children up to the age of 5 years. The emphasis that we put on innovations in implementation of the polio-plus programme has been extraordinary," he said.

    "For instance, we proactively introduced new vaccines such as monovalent oral polio vaccine in 2005 followed by bivalent oral polio vaccine in 2010. We also brought special focus on vulnerable populations and high-risk areas through targeted interventions. Religious leaders and opinion makers were mobilized to overcome resistance. Migrant and transit strategies were adopted to enhance coverage. In all these endeavours, we were most ably supported by our partners

    such as Rotary International, WHO, UNICEF and national and international experts represented on the India Expert Advisory Group," he said.

    Azad said India appreciated the need to maintain highly sensitive surveillance, keeping high immunity levels among children against polio and effective emergency preparedness and response.

    He emphasised that strengthening routine immunization was an imperative if the country wished to sustain its gains in polio and guard itself against both distant and international importations.

    He said the Government had declared 2012 the year of the intensification of Routine


    "We intend to accelerate routine immunization activities from 1st April itself through special immunization drives, with a special focus on 207 districts recording low routine immunization coverage," he said.

    The Minister said the Government had put in place a name, address and telephone-based, web enabled mother and child tracking system to ensure that every pregnant woman and every newborn child is registered so that the full complement of health services including immunization are provided to them on time.


    He said 26 million mothers and children had already been registered. The system generates weekly work plans for the Auxiliary Nurse Midwives through SMS. Alerts can also be sent to the beneficiaries to remind them of the date of the due health services.

    "We hope that we would be able to monitor immunization coverage through this system much more effectively and make sure that drop outs are minimized," he said.

    He urged Rotary International, WHO, UNICEF, CDC, Gates Foundation, GAVI and other partners to now work with the Government to provide an impetus to routine immunization and synergize it with polio eradication strategies.

    "The health systems strengthening that we have done under the National Rural Health Mission has already created a momentum that we must take full advantage of. The phenomenal increase in institutional deliveries as a result of Safe Motherhood Prgramme (JSY) has created new windows of opportunity for spreading the message of full immunization," he said.

    Azad said the recently launched Safe Motherhood and Neonates Scheme (Janani Shishu Suraksha Karyakram) promises to eliminate out-of-pocket expenses for pregnant women and new-borns and, therefore, instils a new confidence in the community to demand accountability in terms of assured quality services.

    "Utilizing the vast gains in infrastructure and human resources made through NRHM, we intend to improve the immunization coverage which has been stagnating at 61% for a long time. It is important that we use the micro plans prepared for polio rounds for tracking these children and making sure they are fully protected against not just polio but other vaccine preventable diseases as well. One such initiative pertains to introduction of second dose of measles in States where first dose coverage is more than 80 percent. In 14 States where coverage is less than 80 percent, we have already started catch-up campaigns to provide second dose of measles. Our target is to cover more than 130 million children under this campaign," he added.

    After success against polio, Govt to now focus on measles, neo-natal tetanus: Azad | NetIndian

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