Bihar’s polio immunisation drive may be hit by strike

February 2nd, 2009 - 2:08 pm ICT by IANS  

Patna, Feb 2 (IANS) The polio immunisation drive in Bihar, which kicked off Sunday, might be severely hit by the ongoing indefinite strike by government employees, including health officials. Authorities, however, said they would recruit volunteers to meet the requirement.Nearly 20 million children are to be administered polio drops during the five-day drive but reports from different districts, particularly in rural areas, indicate that thousands of children were not vaccinated on the first day due to the strike.

The indefinite strike is likely to result in thousands of children not being vaccinated against polio, a health official said here Monday.

Official sources admitted that health services had been crippled due to the ongoing strike and that it would make the anti-polio drive a challenging task. The primary health centres across the state play an important role in the polio immunisation drive and many officials at these centres will not participate in the drive due to the strike, an official said.

But state Health Secretary Deepak Kumar said that the government was making all efforts to ensure that the immunisation drive was conducted smoothly.

“The government is taking the help of doctors appointed on contract (basis) and volunteers due to the strike,” Kumar said.

Hundreds of people in rural areas of Bihar are extremely worried that their children may miss being vaccinated against the crippling disease due to the agitation by government employees that began nearly a month ago.

More than 300,000 government employees went on strike in Bihar, demanding implementation of the recommendations of the Sixth Pay Commission in “letter and spirit”, after the failure of talks with Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi, who also holds the finance portfolio.

Modi, who refused to accept the demands because of a funds crunch, had earlier ruled out any possibility of the government negotiating with the striking employees.

The battle against polio is far from over in Bihar, which has recorded the second highest incidence of the disease in India in 2008 after neighbouring Uttar Pradesh.

Official sources in the health department said Bihar has recorded 233 new polio cases in 2008, one of the highest since the polio immunisation drive was launched in the state nearly a decade ago.

Bihar recorded 158 polio cases in 1998 when the polio immunisation drive started, and subsequently 123 in 1999, 49 in 2000, 22 in 2001, 121 in 2002, 18 in 2003, 39 in 2004, 30 in 2005, 61 in 2006 and 193 cases in 2007.

India is one of the four countries in the world where polio is endemic. According to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, Nigeria reported 728 polio cases this year, with India at second place, followed by Pakistan (81) and Afghanistan (22).

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