The World Health Organization has officially removed India from the list of polio-endemic countries. Ghulam Nabi Azad, India’s minister of Health and Family Welfare, made the announcement at the Polio Summit 2012 in New Delhi on 25 February. Azad said that he had been informed of WHOâ€™s action by its director-general, Dr. Margaret Chan.
“It is a matter of satisfaction that we have completed one year without any single new case of polio being reported from anywhere in the country,” said Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the summit, which was organized by the government of India and Rotary International. “This gives us hope that we can finally eradicate polio not only from India but from the face of the entire mother earth. The success of our efforts shows that teamwork pays.”
India’s last reported case was a two-year-old girl in West Bengal State on 13 January 2011. Before polio eradication can be certified in India, it must go two more years without another case of the disease. Polio remains endemic in only three countries: Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Pakistan.
Bivalent oral vaccine
Until 2009, India accounted for nearly half the number of the worldâ€™s polio cases. A chief factor in the countryâ€™s success has been the widespread use of the bivalent oral polio vaccine, which is effective against both remaining types of the poliovirus. Another has been rigorous monitoring, which has helped reduce the number of children missed by health workers during National Immunization Days to less than 1 percent, according to WHO.
Rotary International has played a major role in helping to stop the transmission of polio in India. Rotary has been a spearheading partner in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative since 1988, along with WHO, UNICEF, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is also a key supporter of the initiative.
Sporting their signature yellow vests and caps, the nearly 119,000 Rotarians in India have helped administer vaccine to children, organize free health camps and polio awareness rallies, and distribute banners, caps, comic books, and other items.
Global support from Rotarians
“With the support of their Rotary brothers and sisters around the world, Indian Rotarians have worked diligently month after month, year after year, to help organize and carry out the National Immunization Days that reach millions of children with the oral polio vaccine,” says RI President Kalyan Banerjee, of the Rotary Club of Vapi, Gujarat. “As an Indian, I am immensely proud of what Rotary has accomplished. However, we know this is not the end of our work. Rotary and our partners must continue to immunize children in India and in other countries until the goal of a polio-free world is finally achieved.”
Robert S. Scott, chair of Rotary’s International PolioPlus Committee, calls India’s achievement “a significant step towards a polio-free world â€“ an example as to what can be accomplished no matter what problems need to be overcome. Rotarians of India are and should be proud of the key efforts they have made at all levels, without which the world would not be marking this milestone.”
Deepak Kapur, chair of the India PolioPlus Committee, also credits the Indian Ministry of Health and Family Welfare for its commitment to ending polio. To date, the Indian government has spent more than US$1.2 billion on domestic polio eradication activities. “We are fortunate that our government is our biggest advocate in this effort,” Kapur says.