India, which was once a major polio hotspot, has reported no new cases of the disease in just over 12 months, ever since a two-year old female case on 13th January, 2011, in the state of West Bengal. According to WHO (World Health Organization), India used to be known as the planet's "epicenter" of polio.
WHO scientists say that as soon as all remaining lab investigations come back negative, India will be officially recognized as a nation that has stopped indigenous transmission of wild poliovirus, leaving just three countries with existing indigenous transmissions - Pakistan, Nigeria and Afghanistan.
Despite this major achievement, scientists say India must not become complacent. Childhood immunity against wild poliovirus must be religiously maintained, as should nationwide surveillance.
Unfortunately, and also rather worryingly, Pakistan and Afghanistan have had rising numbers of reported poliovirus infections over the last 12 months. Poliovirus found its way from Pakistan into China, re-infecting the country after it had been polio-free for over a decade.
Nigeria, DR Congo, and Chad continue having active polio transmission. There have also been sporadic outbreaks in Central and West Africa over the past year. Polio will remain a global threat as long as it exists somewhere in the world, says WHO.
Health experts and leaders throughout the world praised India for its dedication and commitment to the eradication of polio, as well as the millions of health workers, including vaccinators, community mobilizers, Rotarians, caregivers and parents who have been behind this drive over the last decade.
Over 170 million kids under 5 are vaccinated annually in India - this includes 70 million in very high-risk areas. A total of almost 1 billion polio vaccine doses per year have been administered in the country to people of all ages.
Hundreds of thousands saved - India's polio campaign means that hundreds of thousands of children throughout the country will be spared a lifetime of paralysis and/or premature death. The poliovirus can easily spread from affected to polio-free areas. Eradicating polio in India will make sure recurrences and outbreaks do not occur in other parts of the world.
WHO Director-General Margaret Chan, said:
"India's success is arguably its greatest public health achievement and has provided a global opportunity to push for the end of polio. The Global Polio Eradication Initiative is in full emergency mode and focused on using this momentum to close this crippling disease down. Stopping polio in India required creativity, perseverance and professionalism - many of the innovations in polio eradication were sparked by the challenges in India. The lessons from India must now be adapted and implemented through emergency actions to finish polio everywhere."
UNICEF Executive Director, Anthony Lake, said:
"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. We have the ability to protect every last person, especially children, from this entirely preventable disease - and because we can, we must finish the job of eradicating polio globally, once and for all."
Rotary International, President Kalyan Banerjee said:
"India is undoubtedly the biggest domino to fall in the polio eradication effort. India's success is a great credit to the Indian government and to Indian Rotary members - as well as those from around the world - who have worked with local leaders to conduct these immunization efforts to reach every child with the polio vaccine."
In order to maintain the progress made so far, it is crucial that India continues protecting its children through supplementary and routine vaccinations.
Dr. Thomas Frieden, Director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said:
"Polio's history contains many cautionary tales. Polio anywhere in the world is a risk everywhere in the world, and to protect itself from a setback, India is appropriately planning to continue meticulous monitoring and intensive childhood vaccination against polio."
Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said:
"Polio can be stopped when countries combine the right elements - political will, quality immunization campaigns, and an entire nation's determination. World leaders must continue to raise the funds needed to run the global campaign and help to ensure that no child suffers from this crippling disease ever again."
WHO says focus must be maintained in improving anti-polio efforts in Pakistan, Nigeria and Chad.
By the end of next year, India will have donated over $2 billion towards polio eradication, according to WHO.
WHO informs that:
"When all pending specimens are processed (stools from children with acute flaccid paralysis and samples from sewage sampling), if no wild poliovirus is detected, India will no longer be considered polio-endemic. The laboratory system is expected to clear all samples within 4-6 weeks of collection."
GPEI (Global Polio Eradication Initiative) is a joint venture that includes Rotary International, the CDC, UNICEF, the CDC (USA), and national governments.
Written by Christian Nordqvist