Bihar has recorded 162 new polio cases this year (2007), the highest since the polio immunization drive was launched in the state nearly a decade ago.
Experts have blamed the rise in polio cases on devastating floods and the failure of polio eradication campaigns to reach out to marginalized sections in far-flung areas.
Bihar recorded 158 polio cases in 1998 when the polio immunization drive started, and subsequently 123 in 1999, 49 in 2000, 22 in 2001, 121 in 2002, 18 in 2003, 39 in 2004, 30 in 2005 and 61 in 2006.
Going by the 162 new cases till Dec 22, 2007, with the figure expected to rise before the year ends, Bihar still has a long way to go before the disease is eradicated completely.
Unofficial sources, in fact, put the figure of polio cases at 200 by December third week.
This year, it was found that children already vaccinated against polio were re-infected with the disease.
Health Minister Chandramohan Rai said, "The rise in polio cases has posed a big challenge for us."
Most of the new cases were detected in the Araria, Kishanganj and Purnea districts, which have a large Muslim population, official sources said.
According to official records, half a dozen rounds of immunization drives as well as special immunization rounds have been carried out this year.
"Polio remains a big challenge not only for the state and the central governments but also for WHO and Unicef, which have been trying hard to stamp out the disease," said a senior health official.
The Unicef, the central committee and the state health department have identified 28 blocks for an intensified anti-polio campaign aimed at eradicating the disease from Bihar by the end of 2008.
Worried over the rise in cases, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar along with legislators and NGOs took a pledge early this month to root out polio from Bihar.
India's annual budget for polio eradication is pegged at over Rs.10 billion but the detection of new cases in Bihar shows the country still has a long way to go before the disease is wiped out completely.