India’s Stellar Comeback – Polio on the Cusp of Becoming History

On 13th January 2012, India engineered a historical feat which many would have termed as ‘impossible’ a couple of years back. The country of 1.2 billion successfully managed to astonish the whole world by not even reporting one case of polio over the past twelve months. The last unfortunate incident of polio in India was reported in Howrah district of West Bengal on 13th January 2011. The World Health Organization hailed India’s awe-inspiring and trend-shattering performance as ‘India’s greatest public health achievement.’

Polio is a viral disease which is catastrophic enough to cause partial or full paralysis. In the year 2006, India along with three other countries, namely, Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan, was included in the list of those countries who miserable failed to curb the transmission of intrinsic polio virus. It was a matter of great shame for a country like India (aspiring to become a superpower) to fail in its pursuit of puncturing the menace of polio virus but India refused to budge and started afresh. The Government of India devised a host of initiatives and came up with spirited strategies to curb this menace. Like a responsible leader, the Government took up the mantle of funding the majority of the polio eradication program in India. The Government mobilized the support of many vaccinators in its fight against polio. Health workers spread all across the country and undertook a massive polio eradication program. Children under the age of five years were vaccinated at homes, railway stations, bus stands and in some cases even on footpaths to ensure their immunization from polio virus. The crusade spearheaded by the Government of India was provided with exemplary and constant support from organizations like WHO’s National Polio Surveillance Project, Rotary International, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and many other religious organizations and its leaders who helped the above mentioned organizations in reaching out to the members of their communities by encouraging their community members to actively participate in the polio eradication programs.

The Government’s “107 block” strategy which identified key areas in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar as major roadblocks in putting a brake on polio virus transmission turned out to be a game changer. The strategy which envisaged vaccination being carried out with immaculateness, continuous availability of clean drinking water and propagation of hygienic practices ensured desirable results. The professional training imparted to health workers too played a very critical role in achieving this phenomenal result. The Government’s rigorous scientific sampling of sewage helped in identifying and tracking the spread of polio virus. India’s decentralized polio program which gave enormous independence to health workers operating in different areas across the country was carried out with such zealousness that hardly any case of laxity was brought to the notice of the administration during the vaccination drives. In the year 2011, two National Immunization Days (NID’s) followed by multiple Sub-National Immunization Days (SID’s) set the tone for India’s remarkable performance in the recently concluded year as they led to safeguarding of millions from the sinister polio virus.

However, the crusade is far from over. India will have to continue its stellar performance for two more years before it is declared as polio free. The challenges ahead are complex and astronomical in number. India needs to be highly vigilant and should stop importation of polio viruses from neighbouring countries like Pakistan where it continues to persist. The existing eradication programs need to be carried out with the same indomitable spirit to arrive at the goal of a polio free India and to eliminate the possibility of resurfacing or reintroduction of the virus. The network which has been established with the help of this initiative needs to be diversified so that it can undertake many other immunization programs concerning diseases which continue to be a headache in India so that our country can provide a wholesome healthy life to all its citizens.

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