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Eradicating Polio in India

The World Health Organization is currently testing the last samples of the polio virus to certify India’s clear status next month. Since 2012, India has been removed from the list of polio-endemic countries and through a sustained immunization program, has set an impressive public health goal for other developing countries to follow.

Eradicating polio has not been an easy feat for India. This infectious disease that causes crippling disabilities, left 35,000 people paralyzed every year during the 1980s. During this time, over 100 countries fought to eradicate polio by setting up campaigns that stopped this endemic in several nations. Countries such as Pakistan, Nigeria and Afghanistan are still suffering however.

According to the CDC, every child needs to be vaccinated against polio or consequently, a resurgence could lead to over 200,000 children worldwide being paralyzed every year. The success of India’s large scale immunization program has built up the nation’s confidence. India’s Minister of Health, Ghulam Nabi Azad, explained that the success of India would not have been possible without political involvement, financial resources and technological innovation to inoculate against the virus. Azad further detailed that 2.3 million volunteers worked tirelessly during the campaign to vaccinate approximately 170 million children for each round of immunization.

Despite these paramount changes, health experts fear that polio may rise in other areas, although statistics remain low for most developing nations. Recent polio cases from 2012 are from the following polio endemic countries:

Afghanistan – 26

Nigeria – 97

Pakistan – 47

India was removed from this list of polio-endemic countries because it met the following three milestones:

1. No new cases of polio reported within a three year period

2. Disease surveillance efforts coincide with international standards for polio

3. Workers are able to detect and respond to every polio case reported

Thanks to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative that began in 1988, over 2.5 billion children have been immunized against the polio virus. The CDC, Unicef and WHO and several national governments worldwide were able to decline the number of cases by over 99% since 1988. Fundraising efforts by many organizations, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, have also been key to polio prevention for several nations. The hope is that in 2014, cases of this debilitating disease will continue to decrease so that families worldwide can lead productive lives.

Maybelline Martez

Photo: The Hindu
World Health Organization, FTDC, BBC