India celebrates a polio-free 3 yearsFeatured Tuesday, January 14th, 2014
India has announced reaching a milestone of 3 years since its last reported case of polio. It was hailed as a ‘monumental milestone’ by Nicole Deutsch, head of polio operations for UNICEF, and is also considered a landmark in the global battle against polio.
Three consecutive years without a single new case of the disease means that India is now eligible to be declared polio-free by the World Health Organization (WHO). The country was home to 50 per cent of the world’s polio cases in 2009, before being removed from the list of polio-endemic countries in 2012 due to preventive measures taken.
The last reported case of the disease in India has been in January 2011. India’s fight against polio has costed the country over 120 billion rupees since 1995, reports say. A mammoth and sustained immunization programme that involved nearly 400,000 volunteers and over 150,000 community workers across India has led to the eradication of the disease today.
“This monumental milestone was possible due to unwavering political will at the highest level, commitment of adequate financial resources, technological innovation and the tireless efforts of millions of workers including more than 23 lakh (2.3 million) vaccinators,” says Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad.
In the 1980s polio was widespread in over a 100 countries and left close to 350,000 people paralyzed every year. Due to mass immunization campaigns however, the number of global cases has decreased to 372 last year.
“Once we’re certified as a polio-free country, the polio immunization campaign will continue for another two years and gradually decrease. The end game is to be able to stop the vaccine altogether,” says Naveen Thacker, a pediatrician who has been on India’s polio advisory group for seven years.
Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria still remain in WHO’s list of polio-endemic countries, and medical officials say that the risk of migration and spread of polio still continues.