The “Do boond Zindagi ke” Pulse Polio campaign seems to have finally paid off. Scientists, health workers and community outreach officials in India believe they’re finally on the cusp of a major milestone, the defeat of polio throughout the country. The number of reported wild polio cases in India, the kind that most often causes paralysis, has plunged from 741 cases two years ago to just one solitary case this year.
The polio virus, which attacks the nervous system, has been largely eliminated in most other countries through immunizations. But it has remained a frustratingly significant threat in India, as well as in Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan, largely because of unsanitary conditions. It wasn’t too long ago that polio killed or disabled 100,000 children in India each year. The disease spreads when virus-infected fecal matter enters a person’s digestive system, usually through contaminated food, water or hand-to-mouth contact.
India’s polio eradication mission started in 1986, with the PolioPlus programme after Rotary International provided a US $ 2.6 million grant to Tamil Nadu for the purchase of Polio vaccine. The nation-wide focus on PolioPlus began a year later, when US $ 20 million were made available for the purchase of Oral Polio Vaccine, surveillance activities, social mobilization and cold chain support.
Between 1991 and 1994, immunisation drives in the form of Shishu Suraksha Diwas (Child Protection Days) were organized all over India.
The Govt of India took the initiative of launching the first Pulse Polio Immunisation in 1994. A year later, two National Immunisation Days (NIDs) were designated. Since then series of NIDs have been conducted successfully. In 1999, this programme was intensified in order to meet the global deadline. The number of NIDs was increased and “House to House” strategy was adopted to reach every child. In 2001 the strategy of intensive Mop-up immunisation was also introduced to interrupt the wild Polio virus circulation in endemic districts.
About 100 million Indian children younger than 5 receive oral polio vaccine two or three times annually in the lower-risk areas and about 70 million children in high-risk areas such as Uttar Pradesh receive it 10 times a year.
The successful eradication of Polio is no small achievement for a country with a population of over 1 billion. However, many more such campaigns are needed to get rid of other endemic diseases plaguing India.