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India to Heighten Effort to Combat Polio, Malaria

Efforts are about to be increased in India to combat two serious communicable diseases - polio and malaria. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from New Delhi that India is to receive more than $500 million from the World Bank to increase malaria prevention efforts.

Approval from the World Health Organization is pending for a new more powerful oral vaccine to try to eradicate the most serious type of polio affecting Indian children.

A pilot program using the vaccine has already been conducted in the states of Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.

One of India's top polio experts, Dr. T. Jacob John calls this encouraging. Speaking from Vellore in Tamil Nadu, he tells VOA News the current vaccine, meant to provide immunity against all three polio-virus types, has been shown to be of limited effectiveness against Type 1 polio.

"The Sabin vaccine, which contains Type 1, Type 2 and Type 3, is much less efficacious in tropical countries, particularly in India," he said. "The why is not known, but the observation has been consistent."

There has been a worrying resurgence of Type 1 polio in the wild in India in recent years. It is considered the most dangerous variant because of its ability to spread effectively among children and is the type most identified with paralysis.

Besides India, polio remains endemic in Nigeria, Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan.

Epidemiologists report about 350 polio cases this year in India - second in number in the world only to Nigeria, where more than 500 cases have been logged.

Dr. John, who chairs the India Expert Advisory Group on polio, says using the different single-variant oral vaccine, containing a triple dose of the Type 1 virus, will produce only a slight advantage.

"If you increase the potency three-times higher, never expect a three-times better response," said Dr. John. "Maybe another five percent of 10 percent of children may respond."

On another front in the war against communicable diseases, India is to receive $520 million from the World Bank, mainly to combat malaria.

U.N. officials say the package is the largest single project the World Bank has ever financed for malaria control in one country. Two million new malaria cases are reported in India every year.

Officials say the project will include anti-mosquito spraying and distribution of bed nets, as well as preventive treatments for more than 100 million Indians.

The United Nations warns that falciparum malaria, a severe form of the often fatal disease, is increasing in the country due to increased resistance to chloroquine, traditional the primary drug to fight malaria.