Paralysis Haunts "Polio Free" India

“Polio Free” India: Spectre of Paralysis
-          Jagannath Chatterjee
Op-Ed in Orissa Post, 27.03.2013, Page 8
Polio, synonymous with paralysis and disability, has been given a new name in India. It is now known as AFP or acute flaccid paralysis. This and the fact that cases of polio caused by the Oral Polio Vaccine (OPV) are not being reflected as polio have ensured that India is into its second year of “polio free” status. After this charade is maintained for one more year, India will be certified by the WHO as “polio free” and will be showcased as a success story of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative that was launched in 1988 by the World Health Assembly.

Small pox was declared eradicated in 1980. According to medical researcher Prof William Muraskin, the experts involved in this exercise were looking for another opportunity to flaunt their skills. When they chose polio many eyebrows were raised. Polio was not on the priority radar of the countries where this exercise was to be launched. These developing nations were struggling to provide basic health needs. India, for example, was incapable of providing clean water, sanitation, hygiene, and nutrition for a majority of its population even 65 years after Independence.

Furthermore OPV was chosen to be the only weapon to eradicate polio. Dr T Jacob John pointed out that this vaccine, consisting of live viruses, is notorious for causing vaccine induced polio. Not only does it cause polio in the recipient but as those vaccinated tend to shed the virus in their stools, it could mutate and regain its former virulence causing polio in others who come in contact with it, and also cause polio epidemics.

Dr Anant Phadke and C Sathyamala argued that it is not possible to eradicate polio, a disease primarily of poor sanitation and nutrition, with a vaccine. Polio like paralysis can also be caused due to other factors. DDT and other pesticides, exposure to lead and arsenic, the DPT vaccine, and any injection or surgery like tonsillectomies can trigger polio. Thus a holistic approach was needed to tackle the disease.

Medical textbooks reveal that exposure to polio viruses does not necessarily result in paralysis. More than 95% of those exposed will show no symptoms at all. Of the rest, many will exhibit symptoms resembling a common cold, a few will suffer temporary lameness, and less than 1% will exhibit permanent paralysis some of whom may die. Exposure to the polio virus is actually the best immunity against viral polio. It offers permanent immunity to more than 99% exposed to it. According to Dr Yash Paul, those who become permanently paralysed may have some inherent susceptibility that should be investigated.

Again, Dr Phadke pointed out that small pox and polio eradication are two entirely different things. Polio viruses can infect children without causing any external symptoms and thus remain in circulation. He alleged that it was for the benefit of the developed nations, who could stop their vaccination programs once the wild polio virus was eradicated worldwide, and for the OPV manufacturers who were keen for the programme as their product was discontinued in the developed countries due to the risks involved, that the polio eradication strategy was launched. This eradication effort, costing over Rs. 12,000 crores has broken the backbone of the Indian health system.

The National Polio Surveillance Project data shows that it has instead increased paralysis among children from 3047 cases yearly in 1997 to 61,038 cases in 2012, being classified as AFP. The Government does not reveal how many of these cases are due to the vaccine. It was observed in 2005 that against 66 cases of polio caused by the polio virus in that year, 1645 were caused by the vaccine. Data reveals that those vaccinated are 6.26 times more likely to be paralysed.

It is known that there are many strains of the mutated virus strains running loose in India. In Japan, after three months of use, 31 strains of the vaccine viruses were found in sewerage and in its rivers, of which 16 were extremely virulent. India has been using the vaccine since 1978, intensively since 1997, and one cannot even imagine how many virulent strains could be circulating in the country that is devoid of basic sewerage disposal and sanitation facilities.

Why are more than 60,000 children in India coming down with paralysis every year? Dr Neetu Vashisht has analysed that the cases of AFP in India are directly proportionate to the number of doses of OPV given, implying a relationship. Taking into consideration the normal AFP rate, it has been deduced that in 2011, India has suffered 47,500 extra cases of paralysis. Studies have shown that death rates in children with AFP are twice as high as the death rate among children with polio paralysis.In Brazil, a study has implicated this vaccine in cases of Guillain Barre Syndrome, transverse myelitis, and facial palsy. Thus the claim of the Government that these cases of paralysis have no relation to the vaccine merits extensive investigation.

In April 2004 a memorandum has been submitted to the WHO, UNICEF and the Government of India by Prof Debabar Bannerjee and other eminent doctors pointing out that the WHO inflated 32,419 cases of polio to 350,000 to justify the programme. The definition of polio has been changed repeatedly after the programme was launched thus automatically leading to a drastic fall in the number of cases. A significant number of children being declared polio affected by the polio virus was sufficiently vaccinated and that, children were being rendered paralytic directly due to the vaccine.

The memorandum also pointed out that polio eradication was not possible in India as the vaccine viruses had mutated into virulent strains and were circulating. In August 2006, the Indian Medical Association reiterated the above and called for identifying the unfortunate victims and compensating them.

Today, throwing all caution to the winds, children are being given an unprecedented 50 doses of the vaccine and even those who should be medically exempt are being vaccinated. Dr Puliyel reveals that a synthetic version of the polio virus with a formula called 'CHNOPS' has been devised making a mockery of the eradication effort.

Dr Pushpa Bhargava points out that polio was already on the decline even before the eradication effort began. Polio in India was concentrated in few pockets of UP and Bihar which accounted for 96% of the cases reported. Improving sanitation and nutrition in these areas along with routine rounds of the relatively safer IPV would have drastically reduced polio without taking resort to chicanery which has resulted in an unprecedented toll of disability in children in all parts of the country.

Hidden in the packet inserts of the OPV is an ominous statement; the vaccine has not been tested for causing cancer or infertility. The presence of untested monkey viruses, phenol and polysorbate 80 in the vaccine raises concerns. It is also known that the vaccine virus strains can lie latent in the body and cause polio decades after administration.

India is now preparing to launch the much costlier IPV all over the country which will require money and trained manpower at a scale that it currently does not have, to counter the vaccine viruses in circulation. The wild polio viruses which actually conferred immunity to children are now no longer widely prevalent leaving future children exposed to unexpected epidemics. The so called benefits of polio eradication have eluded the indebted country and its children stare at an uncertain future. It is important that lessons from this misadventure be learnt to oppose future assaults on the children of our country.

A version of this article is here;