More than 57,000 and counting. This is the number of pilgrims who have been administered polio vaccination in the form of oral drops at Dera Baba Nanak Integrated Check Post (ICP) ever since it became operational on November 9 and first jatha, led by acting jathedar of Akal Takht, Giani Harpreet Singh, crossed over to Pakistan through Kartarpur Corridor to pay obeisance at Gurdwara Darbar Sahib, the final resting place of founder of Sikhism Guru Nanak Dev in the neighbouring country.
In Pakistan and Afghanistan, polio is categorized as endemic. India, on the other hand, was certified as polio free by the World Health Organisation in 2014 after the last polio case in the country was detected on January 13, 2011.
“We administer drops of polio vaccine to every pilgrim irrespective of their age. The reason is that India is polio free and neighbouring countries Pakistan and Afghanistan are not polio free,” nodal officer dealing with health facilities at Dera Baba Nanak ICP, Dr Lakhwinder Singh Athwal, told The Sunday Express.
Jathedar Harpreet Singh was the first person to be administered two drops of oral polio vaccine on November 9, 2019, Athwal said. Punjab Health Minister Balbir Singh Sidhu had administered the jathedar the drops. All the prominent personalities, who were part of more than 500-strong jatha that crossed over to Pakistan, were administered polio drops. The delegation included former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Punjab Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh, former chief minister Parkash Singh Badal, Parliamentarians including Sunny Deol, Sukhbir Singh Badal and Harsimrat Kaur Badal, and Punjab ministers and MLAs.
Athwal said that many in the first batch of pilgrims were apprehensive about taking the polio drops saying they had been already immunized. “I informed them why it was necessary even if they had been immunized,” he added.
Children below five years of age are certainly more prone to polio virus, he said, adding that already immunized adults were also being administered drops because if they get infected in Pakistan, there are chances that they may carry the virus back home in India through their fecal matter.
WHO describes polio as “a highly infectious viral disease,” which mainly affects young children.” The virus is transmitted by person-to-person, spread mainly through the faecal-oral route or, less frequently, by a common vehicle (such as contaminated water or food) and multiplies in the intestine, from where it can invade the nervous system and can cause paralysis… the disease causes paralysis, which is often permanent. There is no cure for polio, it can only be prevented by immunization,” as per the WHO.
Already immunized adults, Athwal said, would not contract the disease even if polio virus enters in their bodies. “But the virus can be transmitted through the pass faecal matter. To prevent transmission of virus in this manner from Pakistan, we boost the immunity of the pilgrims with two drops of vaccine,” said Athwal, who is also serving as senior medical officer (SMO) at Kalanaur.
Even if a child has been administered the drops, the authorities administer a supplementary dose at the ICP. “It is mandatory as per WHO guidelines,” said Athwal.
On an average more than 500 pilgrims cross over to Pakistan and come back the same day in the evening after paying obeisance at the Sikh shrine in Kartarpur.
Till February 29, around 57000 pilgrims had visited the gurdwara ever since the corridor became operational.
Apart from administering polio drops, another team of health officials at Dera Baba Nanak ICP are also recording travel history and other signs and symptoms of the visiting pilgrims for coronavirus.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines