Dhaka (AsiaNews) - Bangladesh has received the World Health Organization (WHO) certificate of "polio-free country", making it one of the 10 nations in South Asia to have eradicated the disease. The Deputy High Commissioner of Bangladesh in Mumbai, Samina Naz, received the certificate from the governor of the Indian state of Maharshtra, during an official ceremony held on 3 March. The state government, the WHO, the Aditya Birla Group and Rotary International organized the event.
Through a robust national immunization program - Bangladesh 's Expanded Immunisation Programme (EPI) - the country has been freed of the disease since 2003, even though the last cases ever (16) were registered in 2006. All of these, however, were the result of viral contamination in India. Prior to 2006, Bangladesh reported one case of polio in 2000, 29 in 1999, 10 in 1998, five in 1997 and 16 in 1996.
The support of many local NGOs was vital. They assisted government agencies in awareness raising campaigns, even door to door. This has meant that many parents, regardless of their economic status, brought their children directly to vaccination centres.
The WHO's Bangladesh representative, Thushara Fernando, explains that the certificate will not stop vaccination and immunization , although the special programs (which take place twice a year, in addition to routine initiatives) may change. This, however, said Jayantha Liyanage, WHO medical officer, "can only happen when the neighboring countries do not represent a threat of contagion".
By 2015 Dhaka would like to
introduce the polio vaccine intravenously (IPV) rather than oral .
With the certificate given to Bangladesh, the WHO has declared that the entire Southeast Asian region polio free. Along with Dhaka, a further 10 countries in the area have received the same certificate this year: India, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Myanmar, Thailand, Indonesia, East Timor and North Korea. This means that 80 % of the world population lives in areas that are free from possible infection. The last three countries in the world where polio is endemic are Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria.