How India fought battle against Polio

POLIO- The name itself is enough to strike fear and sending chills down the spine. But our nation did not seemed to have such feeling and battled slowly lest bravely against it and come up victorious over it, with its head held high amid it’s size and population, beating all sorts of hurdles come whatever it may on its way. Despite the list of problems our country is facing, but was not behind in curbing Polio and striving to eradicate it completely! India was once considered the center of the crippling disease — and was expected to be the last place it would be eradicated. But soon in the year 2012, the World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed that polio was no longer endemic in India, saving hundreds of thousands of children from paralysis and death.

India’s consummation, has given a huge lift to the global fight against polio, a disease that as recently as 1988 claimed 350,000 people each year. In 2012, the global caseload was just 222. When India came off the WHO list in the year 2012, the number of countries where the virus is still endemic came down to three: Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan. The oral polio vaccine was introduced in India in 1978, a year before the U.S. was declared polio-free. In 1985, Rotary International launched its global effort to end polio everywhere. India was a signatory to the 1988 WHO treaty committing participating nations to be part of that effort. But on the ground in India, “there was not much happening,” as revealed by Dr. Naveen Thacker, a past president of the Indian Academy of Pediatrics and a member of the expert advisory group to the Indian government for polio eradication.

In the year 1994, when the local government of the New Delhi capital region conducted a hugely successful mass immunization campaign targeting children, then the idea began to gain momentum. Though other Indian states like Kerala and Tamil Nadu had conducted similar campaigns before, it wasn’t until the national government saw tangible progress that officials were sufficiently convinced they could make a difference. “That’s when India decided to go after polio in a big way,” as revealed by Thacker. Routine immunization — in which patients sought out the vaccine themselves — had reduced polio but couldn’t stop it from spreading.

In 1995 and ’96, the government started to organize annual national immunization days, and in 1997, India established the National Polio Surveillance Project. In 1999, it set up an expert advisory group that monitored the program and provided continuous evaluation of how the disease was behaving around the country. Eventually, that group, which Thacker was a part of, decided the best way to fight the disease was to focus on the states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, two of the poorest areas in the country where polio transmission was uninterrupted. Significantly, the group also decided to target migrant workers moving in and out of those states and started vaccinating along the trail that migrants followed.

It worked miraculously!! In 2009, 741 cases of polio were reported in India, claimed Thacker. By 2010, that number dropped to 42, and by 2011, only one case — as of 2013, India’s last case — was reported in the entire country. During this year, officially 71% of children in India were immunized against polio, with 98% of children in the highest-risk areas having been immunized. In the process, the National Polio Surveillance Project became India’s most extensive public-health surveillance system. There are currently 27,000 reporting units across the country, run through a combination of funding from the government, WHO, UNICEF, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the CDC, among other groups. India has become one of the world’s largest donors to global polio eradication, putting billions of dollars into fighting the disease at home and also lending its hard-won expertise to Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria, where the virus is still being actively transmitted.

However, Sustained efforts and vigilant surveillance will be the key to get the polio-free status for India.Thus, still persisting with various problems related to transmission of wild polio virus transmission as well as vaccine-derived polio virus. Since 2013, barely any case had been reported, that’s clear testimony to the victorious feat of the country against Polio virus!! and high hopes that it will be successful again, enough in sustaining the winning feat!!

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