But the country has hit the headlines, within two weeks of the new year, all for good reasons as World Health Organisation certified India as a polio free country.
India has not had a case of wild poliovirus nor detected the virus in sewage sampling since 13 January 2011 and is considered to have interrupted the transmission of indigenous wild poliovirus.
Accolades have poured in from all sides as India stunned the world by getting its act together and effectively launching an agressive polio vaccination campaign, immunising and protecting and reaching out to a billion strong population. The resounding success has been termed as “the most important milestone ever on the long road to eradication.”
Pulse Polio became a national aim that saw lakhs of workers fan out across the country, scouring buses, trains for children below 5 years of age, ready to administer drops. The government spared no efforts and roped in Bollywood superstars to catch the attention of masses. Amitabh Bachans familiar deep tone, urging you to give your child “Do boond zindagi ki”, became a household thing.
Fighting the disease was toughest in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, and both the states have not seen a fresh case since 2009-2010. In UP, India’s largest state, a stagering 4 crore children were vaccinated that allowed scaling down the patients from 602 in 2009 to zero, two years later.
Fighting rumors that polio vaccine caused impotence and brought down fertility rate were big challenges en route. Low income families, that were largely uneducated were mostly against getting the child vaccinated.
Since most of these families, in places like Aligarh, Moradabad, Meerut, Bareilly were Muslims, the government roped in religious leaders.
India Polio Communications Update, produced by UNICEF, has looked at things India needs to do to stay polio free. Sustaining the profile of polio free is as tough as eradication itself. Neighboring China’s experience can come in handy as the country has seen importations ever since it eradicated polio. Somalia too, that became polio free in 2007, saw 183 fresh cases last year.
India’s Expert Advisory Group has said that the country needs to maintain ‘eternal vigilance’ against the disease. This means that any lowering of guard against the disease or complacency will see polio staging a comeback. And with large number of people who have not been immunised even now, coupled with illiteracy, will keep the health authorities on their toes for even a longer time.
The last case of polio in India was reported in January 2011
The victim was an 18 month old girl from Howrah district in West Bengal who had type-1 polio.
In 2009, India reported the largest number of cases in the world, 741
In 1985, the number of cases were staggering 1.5 lakh
Every immunisation day involved:
225, 000,000 doses of polio vaccine
172,000,000 children vaccinated
2,000,000 vaccine carriers