The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared Nepal polio-free following a six-month period of no reported infections.
“This is an example of what can be achieved by emphasizing the importance of routine immunization, high quality mass vaccination campaigns and a sensitive surveillance system,” William Schluter, WHO medical officer for the expanded programme on immunization, told IRIN.
Endemic transmission of the debilitating virus was interrupted in 2000 - at which point Nepal was polio-free for the next four years, he said.
Between 2005 and 2008, 20 cases were reported due to cross-border transmission. In 2009, the country was again polio-free.
In 2010 six cases were reported, following two separate importations of the virus from the Indian state of Bihar, he said. In February, a single case outbreak occurred in Mahottari District, followed by a second outbreak in Rautahat District (both districts are on the border with India); the most recent case was reported on 30 August 2010.
Nepal conducted 10 rounds of polio campaigns, including two nationwide campaigns in April and May 2010, reaching some 4.5 million under-five children in each campaign. In June about half that number were reached, and there were seven sub-national rounds in districts deemed to be most at risk.
But despite the successes, the risk of further cross-border infections remains, Schluter said, pointing out that there is a constant flow of goods and services across the 1,690km Nepal-India border.
“We need to interrupt the transmission of the virus, but unprecedented progress was made in India in 2010,” he said. India hopes to interrupt endemic transmission by the end of 2011.
The world’s success in eradicating polio depends on four countries where the virus remains endemic - Afghanistan, India, Nigeria, and Pakistan - down from 125 in 1988, WHO says.
In 2009-2010, 23 previously polio-free countries were re-infected due to virus importation, WHO reports.
According to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, Nepal will continue to be at high risk of re-infection until all endemic polio transmission across borders has been successfully interrupted.
A nationwide anti-polio drive netted 4.5 million children aged 0-5 on 12-13 February 2011; a second round is due to take place on 12-13 March. No cases have been reported so far this year, WHO says.
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