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three years of no polio cases in india- yes, it's eradicated

 The Indian superstar, Amitabh Bachchan, who also happens to be the UNICEF brand for polio in India, proudly announced on twitter on July 19th that polio has been eradicated from India. As per UNICEF, India completes three years this year of reporting zero case of polio. After completing one full year of no polio cases, WHO (World Health Organization)had removed India from its list of polio-endemic countries in 2012. This is indeed a huge accomplishment considering that until 2009 more than half the global polio cases were reported from India. Going from 200,000 cases of polio annually (as per the estimates of Indian Academy of Pediatrics as cited by UNICEF), to zero has been no easy task. The polio eradication programme, which was launched in 1995, won the ‘India Innovation Awards’ for its innovative ways of ensuring that vaccinations reached all children in the hardest to reach areas.

How was this achieved?

According to a document, 'From 200000 to 0, the Journey to a Polio-free India', published by UNICEF, various innovative steps in the polio eradication programme contributed to achieving the goal of zero polio case-

  • House-to-house vaccination is provided to actively search for and vaccinate missed children.
  • Finger marking of every vaccinated child was launched in 1999. Even houses are marked as either P (all children in the house immunized) or X (children missed) based on whether all eligible children in the household had been vaccinated or not by the polio vaccination team. The 'X' homes are subcategorized to be followed by doctors or influencers as needed depending on whether the child is sick or the family refused vaccine.
  • Transit vaccination teams are deployed at train stations, on running trains, bus stands, highways, markets, prominent road crossings to give oral polio vaccine to children in transit.
  • A special focus is on covering all children in construction sites, nomadic settlements, peri-urban areas and urban slums.
  • Polio immunization is carried out at all fairs and festivals in and around polio-endemic states – both at the venue of these gatherings, and also all along the routes which people take to reach these venues.
  • A system was introduced in 2006 to identify, track and immunize every newborn child with upto 8 doses of the oral vaccine before one year of age in the highest risk areas of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
  • Polio immunization has been carried out at five sites along the India-Pakistan border in the states of Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir and Rajasthan since September 2011 and at 81 border posts along the Indo-Nepal border in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar to mitigate the risk of importing the disease from across the border.

Apart from the various physical measures to ensure delivery of multiple doses of the vaccines, various innovations have been made in the Polio Eradication Programme in terms of the vaccines and the research involved. For example, introduction of bivalent oral polio vaccine (bOPV) in 2010 simultaneously and effectively curtailed both type 1 and type 3 polio viruses.

To top all efforts, social mobilization has played an important role in polio eradication as well.  The Social Mobilization Network (SMNet) was launched in Uttar Pradesh in 2001 to generate community support for polio immunization activities. Today, the SMNet of UNICEF and CORE has grown into an army of more than 7,000 mobilizers who provide information about polio immunization, routine immunization, exclusive breastfeeding, the use of ORS and zinc to tackle diarrhea, personal hygiene and addresses sanitation issues, including dry toilet conversion and safe water supply.

Lastly, polio posters with catchy tag lines have been used across the country to increase awareness and place the onus on parents to ensure vaccination. For example, 'mere bachche ko do boond har bar’ (for my child, two drops every time) and “jahan bhi jao jahaan bhi raho, polio ki khurak avashya pilao” (wherever you go, wherever you are, ensure polio vaccination for your child up to 5 years) are well known lines motivating parents to stay on top of their kids' health issue in India. Various actors, apart from Mr. Bachchan, like Hema Malini, Anil Kapoor, etc. and cricketers like Saurav Ganguly, Dhoni, Kumble, etc have been engaged in the fight against polio. When parents in rural areas see their favorite cricketers calling out to 'vaccinate every child every time' to 'bowl out polio', the message is definitely well taken.

Who made the eradication possible?

Apart from UNICEF, Rotary International and the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare are the key players that are responsible for India's victory against polio. Rotary has contributed US $ 158 million to date in India for polio eradication. It's members like Aditya Birla Group, and Harshad Mehta have contributed millions towards the effort. The private sector of India made sizeable contributions under their corporate social responsibility  budgets when AidMatrix Foundation and UNICEF launched the 'India Unite to End Polio Now' campaign. National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) is also integrated with the polio programme to ensure effective healthcare. The film fraternity and sports stars joined hands to drive home the need for vaccinations. The power of the religious leaders was tapped into to convince those who resisted vaccinations. Social workers, health workers, volunteers- all came together. India made the polio eradication possible.

It is no surprise that India's fight against polio has provided a model for other polio-endemic countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria to follow.

We Say...

 Every once in a while a success story emerges from India that succeeds in warming its way into your heart and brightens the ray of hope for the country known for its corruption and chaos just as much as it is known for its colorful culture. When the government, the religious leaders, the celebrities and the corporations come together for a cause, anything can be done!

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