DELHI -- Following a year of no polio cases, WHO has officially removed India from its list of polio-endemic countries. But the war against the crippling disease isn’t over yet. India will only be confirmed as totally polio free if no more cases surface in the next two years.
“We must ensure that every Indian child, rich or poor, whether living in Ladakh or in Delhi has equal access to the best immunization,” said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who made the announcement at the recently concluded polio summit in Delhi. “To this ambitious task I commit our government”
India’s fight against polio has been quite extraordinary especially in states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, which are plagued by poverty and poor sanitation. In 2009, it had more than 700 cases—half the global number. In Jan 2011, it had one case in West Bengal. But none counting from Jan 13 last year. These results are attributed to a successful partnership between the U.N. and the Indian government that put together the National Polio Surveillance Project (NPSP) in 1997 as well as the coordination between the central government and state governments. Read about the NPSP eradication strategy here.
A big push came from hugely popular Bollywood actor Amitabh Bachchan who appeared in several public service announcements on TV and radio exhorting parents to immunize their children. According to U.N. figures, some 900 million doses of the oral polio vaccine were administered in 2011 alone by approximately 8,500 mobilizers. More than 170 million children under age 5 were vaccinated in two national immunization campaigns.
Prime Minister Singh applauded the efforts of 230,000 volunteers who had fought the disease in remote areas and difficult terrains. “The success of our efforts shows that teamwork pays,” he said. “I commend each one of them for their dedication, for their commitment and for their selfless service.”
India’s Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad noted that 27% of the global expenditure for polio eradication had come from India. Azad, however, pointed out that risks persisted from external and internal transmission of the virus. Pakistan, India’s neighbor, is still on the list of polio-endemic countries.
India is beefing up protection in states on the border by setting up special booths to give polio drops to all children under the age of 5 who are coming from the other side. According to the U.N., a virus from Pakistan “re-infected” China, which had removed polio in 1999.
Minister Mir Hazar Khan Bijarani from Pakistan, who attended the polio summit, asserted that his country was trying hard to beat the disease. “We are doing our best to follow its (India) footprints and rid Pakistan of polio,” he said, as reported by the Associated Press of Pakistan.
Bijarani blamed terrorism as a major hindrance for health workers to administer polio drops to children living in dangerous areas. “One major obstacle is Pakistan’s fight against terror which has made a number of areas in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan Provinces bordering Afghanistan as highly volatile,” he said.
Nigeria and Afghanistan also remain on the polio-endemic list. The number of polio cases in all three countries has increased. Pakistan had 198 cases in 2011. “It is a matter of serious concern for us that despite our best efforts, the number of polio cases in Pakistan has been going up for the last three years,” said Bijarani. As we have marched into the year 2012, the number of polio cases confirmed by the Polio Lab so far has gone up to 11. This is a dismal picture.”
The total number of polio cases in 2012 from endemic and non-endemic countries can be seen here. In its Jan 2012 report, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, focuses on the "humble vaccinator" in terms of improving quality of anti-polio programs on the front-lines. Nigeria and Pakistan are described as a "potent threat to the possibility of global eradication"
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