In three months from now India will be declared polio-free nation. On World Polio Day today, the Rotary Clubs of Madurai are coming together in tribute to the successful mission

For a change there is a bit of visual relief from the political and patriotic buntings and hoardings and the huge flex boards announcing weddings that usually dot the city roads in Madurai. Small and unobtrusive yellow banners carrying a high-impact “goodbye” message are fluttering within and outside some school and college campuses, few other strategic locations like flyovers, traffic roundabouts, hotels and public buildings. It is a powerful display of ending polio in a district that has not reported a single case in the last 15 years.

According to the Surveillance Medical Officer for Polio Project here, Dr.Santhosh Rajagopal, the last polio cases in Madurai district were reported in 1998. These included one in Madurai city and three from rural areas. In the last decade-and-a-half, the reach of vaccination coverage was maintained, dubbed as a key to success of the massive pulse polio programme launched in India in mid-90s.

While the role played by international organizations like the WHO and UNICEF, the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and respective federal and state governments in eradicating polio is well recognized, the silent contribution of the Rotary International is not known as much. It has been a leading partner in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative particularly in advocacy, fund raising and building public awareness, points out Dr.G.Vasudevan, a senior Rotary coordinator for polio in the city.

Now with January 14, 2014, set as the date when India is slated to get recognition for completely eradicating polio, the Rotary Clubs of Madurai thought it befitting to recall, remember and strengthen the commitment to a polio-free journey on October 24 (today) which has been declared the World Polio Day.

Millions of children who have successfully fought poliomyelitis through the olio immunization programme launched by the Government in 1994-95 across the country are perhaps unaware how the “do boond zindagi ke” (two drops of life) really gave them a new life.

Barely two decades ago, India held half the world’s polio cases. Last February, it was struck off the list of polio-endemic countries as there was no case of polio reported in the country since January 2011. It is on the completion of three years of this progress that India will be declared polio-free and become one among 133 nations worldwide to achieve this status. The disease was eradicated in the Americas by 1994 and in 36 Western Pacific countries, including China and Australia in 2000. Europe was declared polio-free in 2002.

No other health campaign in India as the ‘do boond’ has seen such reach and witnessed cent per cent success. It was possible due to the concerted and untiring efforts of numerous health workers, community mobilisers, doctors, nurses and paramedics along with cooperative mothers and other family members of babies under-five years. But does the generation that benefitted really know or understand how the battle against the polio virus was fought? And what a serious ailment it was spreading scare across the globe? Although the polio virus transmission has been interrupted in much of the world, the risk of its import to previously polio-free regions still exists especially in areas with low vaccination coverage and poor sanitation.

It is with the idea of educating the youth about polio that the Rotarians in Temple Town will be conducting meetings in various schools and colleges through the day today (Thursday). The aim is to reach more than 10,000 students in the first round and later follow-it up with similar exercise.

The multiple venues for today’s series of meetings on polio awareness are the Mahatma Montessori Matriculation School, Ananth Memorial Matric Hr Sec School, Sri Sadhana Matric Hr Sec School, Bharathiyar Matric Hr Sec School, Jayaseelan Matric School, Parasakthi Higher Sec School, Yadava matric Higher Sec School and Arulanandhar College.

The end of polio has been and has to remain a people’s campaign. And that is what will mark today’s event also.