President calls for creating a polio-free world

As India celebrates its victory over polio — completing three years without any case of the debilitating infection — the nation becomes entitled to polio-free certification by the World Health Organisation in March.

On Tuesday, President Pranab Mukherjee received Rotary International’s highest award — Award of Honour — a recognition for heads of nations or governments who have rendered unique service to humanity and served their countries and people.

“After this historic victory of humankind where millions of lives have been saved through tireless efforts of many, we have to take care of neighbours also. We should commit ourselves to creating a polio-free world,” Mr Mukherjee said at a function marked to celebrate the day.

Describing eradication of polio as an impressive achievement, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh attributed it to strong political will, assured financial commitment and a robust oversight of the strategy adopted by the government.

“Our success in eradicating polio has made us more confident of achieving our objectives of full immunisation against preventable diseases, universal healthcare and strengthening of primary healthcare infrastructure to address the needs of the most under-developed societies,” he said.

Union Health and Family Welfare Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad said this landmark achievement rode on the confidence generated by the strategic investments made under the National Rural Health Mission. Virtually every child in the country was reached with the new indigenously developed bivalent polio vaccine, he noted.

In 1995, the disease affected more than 50,000 children in the country every year. Soon the number of polio infections reduced but eradicating polio remained a distant dream.

In 2009, India had half the number of polio cases in the world. By 2011, in less than two years’ time, India brought polio infections to the zero level.

This was achieved by involving over a million Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHAs) and auxiliary nurse midwives and a 2.3-million-strong team of polio volunteers and 1.5-lakh supervisors in vaccination.

Sonia Gandhi, Chairperson, National Advisory Council, said the success was unmatched in scope and extent anywhere in the world. This had been made possible through teamwork and a highly creative communication strategy, which worked to dispel myths and fears and stimulated communities.

Margaret Chan, Director-General, World Health Organisation, said, “India has shown the world that there is no such thing as impossible. This is likely the greatest lesson, and the greatest inspiration for the rest of the world.” She attributed this to world-class health surveillance systems in India.

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