New Delhi: In a development that could boost India’s National Polio Eradication Programme, the health ministry might introduce injectable polio vaccine (IPV) in the country, especially in badly affected areas such as Uttar Pradesh, Bill Gates, chairman of Microsoft Corp. and co-chair of Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, announced on Wednesday.
The ministry will take a decision following recommendations of an international expert group that will meet ministry officials next week, Gates told a press conference here.
A health ministry official confirmed the development. “The health ministry will collaborate with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for developing an India-specific vaccine for polio,” the official said. “It was felt that OPVs (oral polio vaccines) are not sufficient and there is a requirement for IPVs as well, though the logistics for its introduction will have to be carefully chalked out.”
Polish off polio: Bill Gates says the next two years will be crucial for India to eradicate polio and it is critical to take the right steps now. Harikrishna Katragadda / Mint
The move to include IPVs—that can be more stable and effective than OPV in India’s climate—was initiated at a meeting on Tuesday where Gates met health ministry officials. The meeting was also attended by representatives of the World Health Organization, Rotary International and United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (Unicef).
India came under fire for its polio eradication programme following a resurgence of the disease in 2006. From 66 cases in 2005, reported cases climbed to 676 in 2006 and 874 in 2007. However, health minister A. Ramadoss in 2007 rejected suggestions of the India Expert Advisory Group in Polio to use IPVs, citing cost implications and shortage of manufacturers.
The government is now prepared to reconsider after Gates promised adequate funds. “We will ensure there are enough funds to introduce this (IPVs) in certain areas of the country where polio is endemic and eradication has been difficult,” Gates said. The IPV is 25 times more expensive than the OPV. Gates added that the next two years would be crucial for India “to polish off polio and it is critical to take the right steps starting now”.