After three arduous years - India conquers polio
World Health Organization say nation has not reported a case of polio in the past three years
It's a heartening bit of news that confirms that diligence pays off. In the sprawling nation of Indian, where most of the population lives in dire poverty and without medical treatment, there have been no reported cases of polio within the last three years. The World Health Organization confirmed this figure this week, and says it's a significant milestone in the global fight against the disease.
In order to stop the growth of polio in India, millions of health workers, community mobilizers, and vaccinators were involved in the drive to immunize children with polio drops.
Since it has been three years since any new cases means India can be declared polio-free. The dreaded, crippling virus now only remains endemic in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria. These are impressive figures as there were 125 polio-endemic countries in 1988.
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"We give huge credit to the government . it makes us extremely proud and highly responsible for having helped the government to reach this incredible achievement," Nata Menabde, the WHO's head in India told reporters.
"It has given confidence to donors, it has given confidence to and (put pressure on) governments of polio-endemic countries and it has demonstrated that persistent efforts can make a difference."
The WHO plans to officially declare India with the entire South East Asia region polio-free by the end of March, when the legal procedures for certification are completed.
Polio crippled thousands every year in rich nations before the introduction of medication in the Fifties. Polio attacks the nervous system and can cause irreversible paralysis within hours of infection.
Polio often spreads in areas with poor sanitation, which is a factor that helped it keep a grip on India for many decades. While children younger than five years of age are the most vulnerable, the virus can be stopped with comprehensive, population-wide vaccination.
In order to stop the growth of polio in India, Menabde said millions of health workers, community mobilizers, and vaccinators were involved in the drive to immunize children with polio drops.
Health workers targeted mobile families at bus stations, on trains and at construction sites, as well as at local festivals and gatherings. Some even travelled by foot to reach remote villages.
"This is unprecedented in terms of scale. India is one of the toughest areas in the world for these kinds of initiatives, but many operational and strategic innovations have been implemented over the years (and) have been very important," Menabde said.
"For example we enlisted the help of clerics and imams when we were dealing with some resistance in Muslim communities who had an impression that the vaccination was a hidden sterilization effort and that it would lead to impotency."
The path to being polio-free for India came in increments. In 2009, 741 Indians fell sick with polio, nearly half the world's cases that year. The number dropped to 42 in 2010, and only one in 2011.
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