The World Health Organisation (WHO) South-East Asia Region, home to a quarter of the world’s population, was certified polio-free on Thursday by an independent commission under the WHO certification process.
This is the fourth of six WHO Regions to be certified, marking an important step towards global polio eradication. With this step, 80 per cent of the world’s population now lives in certified polio-free regions.
An independent panel of 11 experts in public health, epidemiology, virology, clinical medicine and related specialties constituting the South-East Asia Regional Certification Commission for Polio Eradication (SEA-RCCPE) met for two days to review evidence from countries before reaching the decision that all 11 countries of the Region, including India, are now polio-free and have met the requirements for certification.
To mark the occasion, the WHO presented official certification to India for its ‘Polio Free’ status. The Minister for Health and Family Welfare, Ghulam Nabi Azad, received the official certificate.
Speaking at the function, Mr. Azad expressed happiness at the historic public health achievement which seemed impossible with India having the highest burden of polio cases in the world.
Mr. Azad said India embarked on the programme to eradicate the nation of polio 19 years ago in 1995, when the disease used to cripple more than 50,000 children in the country every year. He said this achievement had been possible with resolute will at the highest levels, technological innovations like the indigenous bivalent polio vaccine, adequate domestic financial resources and close monitoring of polio programme, with which immunization levels soared to 99 per cent coverage and India achieved polio eradication. A 2.3-million strong team of polio volunteers and 150,000 supervisors worked day and night to reach every child.
“This is a momentous victory for the millions of health workers who have worked with governments, non-governmental organisations, civil society and international partners to eradicate polio from the Region. It is a sign of what we can bequeath our children when we work together,” said Dr. Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director for the WHO South-East Asia Region.
Certification of the Region comes as countries prepare for the introduction of inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) in routine immunization as part of the eventual phasing out of oral polio vaccines (OPV). More than 120 countries currently use only OPV. These countries will introduce a dose of IPV by the end of 2015 as part of their commitment to the global polio endgame plan which aims to ensure a polio-free world by 2018.