India was officially declared polio-free last week, clocking three full years after its last polio case was reported in 2011. It is a healthcare landmark for a country of 1.3 billion people to be proclaimed free of the disease by the World health organization. Other than Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria, the rest of the world is currently rid of polio.
The event could be a signal for global drug firms – in that it proves that India’s market is big and real, and that there is a possibility of reaching every Indian if the price is right.
Polio is a vaccine-preventable disease that has long been eradicated in the West. But its purging from India, a populous country with a significant number of poor and illiterate people, is particularly momentous. The challenges are not just poor sanitation and polluted water. Public health systems are inadequate and the per-capita spend on healthcare is among the lowest in the world.India spends $2.5 per head on healthcare while neighboring Sri Lanka invests $87 and China spends $155.
Even as recently as 2009, nearly half the world’s new polio cases were being reported from India. The debilitating disease is carried through tainted food or water. The virus attacks the central nervous system, paralyzing muscles and stunting appendages.
The country has purged itself of the disease by treating it as a public health crisis situation. The government mounted a concentrated campaign of never-before proportions, financing it with over $2.5 billion of public money as well as funds from non-profit organizations.