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India Breaks Free Of Polio In Boost To Global Immunisation Drive

posted 13 Jan 2014, 07:11 by Mpelembe   [ updated 13 Jan 2014, 07:11 ]

India marks three years since its last reported case of polio, paving the way for it to be declared free of the crippling virus and boosting efforts to wipe out the disease globally.

NEW DELHI, INDIA (JANUARY 13, 2014) (ANI) -  India on Monday (January 13) marked three years since its last reported case of polio, paving the way for it to be declared free of the crippling virus and boosting efforts to wipe out the disease globally.

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The country's last case of the wild polio virus was detected on January 13, 2011, in a two-year-old girl in eastern state of West Bengal. Three years without any new cases means India can be declared polio-free.

AfghanistanPakistan and Nigeria are the only countries in the world where the disease remains endemic.

World Health Organisation (WHO) would officially declare India as polio-free by the end of March, when the legal process for certification is completed, a WHO representative told Reuters.

Speaking on this aspect, Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad said it is a historic day for the country, which once counted for over half of the global polio burden.

"In 2009, India counted for over half of the global polio burden and today is the historic day when we have completed three years without a single case of wild polio," he said.

Polio attacks the nervous system and can cause irreversible paralysis within hours of infection.

The highly infectious disease often spreads in areas with poor sanitation - a factor that helped it keep a grip on India for many decades - and children under five are the most vulnerable. But it can be prevented by population-wide vaccination.

India had been considered one of the toughest places in the world to eradicate polio. Many families in poor, high-risk states such as eastern Bihar and northern Uttar Pradesh migrate for work, while other communities live in remote or inaccessible areas.

Millions of volunteers were involved in the drive to immunise children by giving them polio drops.

They targeted migrant families at bus stations, on trains, at construction sites, and at local festivals. Some used motorcycles or trekked by foot to reach remote villages.

As a consequence, over 170 million children are immunised every year, with millions more targeted on house-to-house visits. The drive has cost the government $2.5 billion since 1995.

Meanwhile, Azad said that India's success story is a cumulative effect of a collective political will, adequate funds to fight the disease and the tireless efforts of millions of door-to-door campaigners and vaccinators.

"This monumental milestone was made possible due to unwavering political view at the highest level, commitment of adequate financial resources, technological innovations like use of bivalent vaccines as well as efforts of millions of workers," added Azad.

In 2009, 741 Indians fell sick with polio, nearly half the world's cases that year. The number dropped to 42 in 2010 and only one in 2011.

There were 148 cases of polio in AfghanistanNigeria and Pakistan in 2013, while 224 new cases were detected in non-endemic countries such as SomaliaSyria and Kenya.

These countries face a range of challenges such as violent conflicts, weak health systems and poor sanitation. In Pakistan, gunmen frequently attack polio vaccination workers, accusing them of being western spies and part of a plot to sterilise Muslims.