India set for polio-free landmark

13 January 2014 BBC Online
India set for polio-free landmark

India set for polio-free landmark


Over 2.4 million volunteers vaccinate some 170 million children in India during every immunisation round

India is set to mark three years since its last case of polio was reported.

The landmark is seen as confirmation of one of India's biggest public health successes, achieved through a massive and sustained immunisation programme.

Only one case of polio was recorded in 2011, down from 741 in 2009.

Last year the World Health Organisation removed India from the list of polio-endemic countries. Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria remain polio-endemic countries.

This refers to countries in which the virus is circulating freely and the transmission of the disease has not been stopped.

Reports say that although India's government is due to declare the country polio-free on Monday, the WHO will certify the status on 11 February after testing the last of some samples.

Nicole Deutsch, head of polio operations for UN children's charity, Unicef in India, described the landmark of three years without polio in India as "a monumental milestone".

"India has now set other important public health goals as a result of the confidence that the country has got from the successful eradication of polio," she told the AFP news agency, citing a new measles eradication goal.

The last case of polio was reported from the eastern state of West Bengal in 2011 when an 18-year-old girl was found to have contracted the disease.

Rukshar Khatoon is now going to school and leads a "normal life" although she still suffers pain in her right leg from the disease, her doctors and parents told the AFP news agency.

"She can now stand on her feet and walk, but can't run. When her friends play, she remains a spectator," her father Abdul Shah said.

 

Mr Shah said it had been a "grave mistake" to only get his son vaccinated for polio, but not his two daughters.

After the eradication of smallpox in 1980, polio is the second disease in India that has been eliminated through immunisation.

Nearly 2.3 million volunteers visit 209 million homes to vaccinate some 170 million children under five years of age in India during every round of immunisation.

Polio is capable of causing crippling disability or death within hours. It plagued societies in ancient times - and was present in more than 100 countries even in the 1980s, when it left 350,000 people paralysed each year.

 

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