Alarmed at reports about a spurt in polio -- the contagious and paralytic disease that strike children especially in India -- the World Health Organisation is considering asking the Indian government to issue an order whereby Indians traveling abroad will have to ensure that their children traveling with them are vaccinated against polio.
The order, if implemented, would mean that Indians travelling to other parts of the world with children below five years of age will have to get certificates from a doctor showing the status of the polio vaccine.
A WHO report last month said India had emerged as an exporter of the polio virus to polio-free countries. It specifically said: 'The outbreak of polio in western district of Moradabad in Uttar Pradesh is rapidly spreading and cases are confirmed in central Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Chandigarh and West Bengal.'
The report said Moradabad and its surrounding areas form the only place in the world that is actively exporting the polio virus to other countries -- polio originating from this area has recently been detected in a number of previously polio-free countries, including Namibia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Bangladesh and Nepal.
In the wake of the WHO report, United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan wrote to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh earlier this month asking his government to take immediate healthcare measure to contain the spread of polio cases in the country.
According to India's health ministry records, while there were only 66 cases of polio in 2005, in the last eight months this year, the disease had spread across eight states, with Uttar Pradesh and Bihar topping the list.
The latest figures say there are already 296 polio cases in India this year.
Ministry officials said WHO officials met Health Minister Dr Anbumani Ramadoss last week to ascertain the government's view whether the global body can go ahead with issuance of polio vaccine status for Indians traveling abroad with children.
The government is said to be against WHO's idea to declare a new travel notification for India.
"We feel such a move could create a bad image for the country as a large number of Indians travel abroad these days," a health ministry official told rediff.com
Dr Ramadoss has assured WHO officials that India is taking the fight against polio on a war footing, and that special programmes are being launched immediately to tackle polio cases in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
According to ministry records, Moradabad and surrounding districts in Uttar Pradesh now account for over half of India's polio cases in 2006 (158 of 296 cases). By comparison, for the same period in 2005, only 29 cases had been confirmed in the entire country.
Health ministry officials say one reason why the number of polio cases has risen alarmingly this year is because there was a "marginal increase in missed children during immunisation in late 2005." The ministry is now planning to carry special immunisation drives in October and November, especially in states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar to contain the disease.
Meanwhile, taking a step forward to combat the incidence of polio cases, the Saudi Arabian government had announced new polio vaccination requirements for persons under the age of 15 travelling to the kingdom.
Accordingly, all persons under the age of 15 travelling from countries reporting the polio virus are required to show valid and up-to-date proof of vaccination in order to obtain visas for entry into Saudi Arabia. In addition, polio vaccinations are mandatory for all persons under the age of 15 arriving from countries reporting the polio virus. These vaccinations will be given at Saudi Arabian border points.