The United Nations and leading world organizations celebrated India’s first polio free year and termed it as a major milestone in their fight against this dreaded disease.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) Director-General Margaret Chan, termed it as the “greatest public health achievement” of India, the Bill Gates, of Bill and Milinda Gates Foundation described it as a major milestone in the global fight against polio.
“This is a major milestone in the global fight against polio. Children in India are now protected against this debilitating, but preventable disease, bringing us one step closer to saving and improving the lives of all children,” Mr. Gates said.
Mr. Gates in particular congratulated the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, the Union Health Minister, Ghulam Nabi Azad, and the Chief Ministers of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal on this achievement.
This success is the result of Indian Government’s hard work and great partnerships with Rotary International, Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, WHO and UNICEF as well as millions of volunteers, health workers and community leaders, said the Seattle-based foundation.
Celebrating the occasion, the World Health Organisation said, if all pending samples for the virus test negative, India — once regarded as the world’s epicentre for polio — will become free of the disease for the first time in its history, reducing the number of polio-endemic countries to three: Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria.
“India’s success is arguably its greatest public health achievement and has provided a global opportunity to push for the end of polio,” WHO Director General, Margaret Chan said.
U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Executive Director Anthony Lake attributed India’s remarkable progress to strong leadership at a national and state level, which pushed for the launch of a comprehensive polio eradication programme that enabled very poor and populous states to have high immunization coverage.
“India’s achievement is proof positive that we can eradicate polio even in the most challenging environments — in fact, it is only by targeting these areas that we can defeat this evil disease,” Mr. Lake said.
Headquartered in the U.S., Rotary International, which was majorly involved in the polio-eradication campaign in India, termed it as a major milestone in the global effort to eradicate the crippling disease polio.
“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 organise and carry out the National Immunisation Days that reach millions of children with the oral polio vaccine,” Rotary International president, Karlan Banneker, said.
Rotary launched its polio eradication program in 1985 and in 1988 became a spearheading partner in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, with the World Health Organisation, UNICEF, and the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
Since then, the incidence of polio has plummeted by more than 99 per cent, from more than 350,000 cases a year to only 604 in 2011.
The 12-month milestone in India — where the last reported case was a two-year-old girl in West Bengal on Jan 13, 2011 — continues the progress of 2010, when the country recorded only 42 polio cases out of 1,352 worldwide.
However, UN health officials still felt the need of being vigilant. In spite of the current progress, WHO warned that there is no room for complacency.
“It is a very welcome milestone, but it is not the end of the road,” WHO’s spokesperson for the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, Sonia Bari, told the UN Radio.
Ms. Bari said the Indian Government must remain vigilant and respond very rapidly to guard itself against any importation of polio from other countries.