India has a good reason to celebrate: it has remained polio-free for two years straight. Once considered the epicenter of this paralyzing and life-threatening disease, India reported the last case of polio-infection in January 2011.
It was also predicted that India would remain on the list of polio-infected nations for a long time, but in February 2012 the WHO (World Health Organization) removed India’s name from the list of polio-endemic countries.
If there are no more cases of polio reported through 2013, then in 2014 India will be declared polio-free.
Why is India’s achievement so incredible?
In 1988, 350,000 people died because of polio worldwide. The oral polio vaccine was introduced in India in 1978 but until 1994 nothing substantial was achieved.
What happened since 1994?
1994 – The local government in New Delhi, India’s capital city, conducted a mass scale immunization for children. It was immensely successful and the idea that polio could be tackled in India began to take hold. Once the national government noticed tangible progress, officials became convinced and started participating in routine immunization. As patients began to seek vaccination, the number affected dropped but the disease continued to spread. Almost 90% were immunized nationally but not contained.
1995-1996 – the government organized national immunization days.
1997 and 1999 – the National Surveillance Project was established in 1997. In 1999, an expert advisory committee was created to monitor the program and evaluate the behavior of the disease across the country. Eventually, the committee focused on the two poorest states, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, where the disease remained unaffected by the immunization programs. Migrant workers moving in and out of these states were followed and immunizations were designed to work along their trails.
741 cases were reported in 2009; 42 in 2010; and only 1 in 2011.
The National Surveillance Project has now become India’s most extensive public health surveillance system with 27,000 reporting units working under it across the country. Its funding comes from the national government, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the WHO, UNICEF, and CDC, among others.
Today India is one of the world’s largest global donors to polio eradication, given the billions of dollars it contributes to address the disease within its borders and the expertise and knowledge that it lends to countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nigeria where the existence of the disease is still alarming.
But is the war won completely?
Dr. Naveen Thacker, a former President of the Indian Academy of Pediatrics and member of the advisory group of the Surveillance Project, says it is essential that immunizations continue throughout the country and surveillance does not stop because the ‘war against polio’ is very recently won and the endgame is a critical phase. Moreover, with a neighboring country that has high incidence of the disease, India must remain cautious about the polio scene.
– Mantra Roy