India celebrates a landmark achievement in public health – ‘the victory over polio’ on Monday. The country has now completed three years without any polio,one of the key pre-requisites for polio-free certification, amidst a very sensitive surveillance system for poliovirus. The celebration is organized by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare to commemorate this great accomplishment as well as to thank the efforts of all those who contributed to it.
The event will be graced by the President, Pranab Mukherjee, the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, the Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare, Ghulam Nabi Azad, the Chairperson, National Advisory Council, Sonia Gandhi and the Leader of the Opposition in Lok Sabha, Sushma Swaraj. The Director-General, World Health Organization, Dr Margaret Chan, the President, Rotary International, Ron D Burton, and the Global Polio Chief of United Nations Children’s Fund, Peter Crowley, will represent the key polio partner agencies at the event.
Representatives of various other partners and donors, and ambassadors of various countries, which supported the India’s fight against polio, are expected to join the celebration. The highlight of the event will be over 1,000 representatives from the field – the vaccinators from across the country, the social mobilisers, the surveillance medical officers and the health department officials – who were undeniably the key players in India’s proud story of victory over polio. The polio virus surveillance system in the country is among the best in the world. Nearly 40,000 reporting units which include health facilities report as many as 60,000 cases of paralysis every year to the polio surveillance network – National Polio Surveillance Project. Each of these cases are followed up and nearly 1,20,000 stool samples collected from the paralysis patients are tested annually in the eight WHO accredited laboratories.
All these samples have tested negative for polio for the last three consecutive years –strong evidence that India no longer has polio. In addition, sewage samples collected from Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Patna and Punjab have tested negative for poliovirus, corroborating India’s unprecedented victory over polio.
The achievement is of the entire country, the tireless efforts of the entire polio workforce and the parents who came forward to accept polio vaccination, repeatedly, round after round and year after year.
India has not reported any case of polio since a two-year old girl got polio paralysis on 13 January 2011 in Howrah district of West Bengal. All cases of paralysis reported to the polio surveillance network until 13 January this year, have tested negative for polio. India’s victory over polio paves the way for polio-free certification of the South East Asia region of WHO in March end.
This is an unprecedented progress for a country, which reported more than half the global polio cases until the year 2009. Experts always predicted India would be the last to stop polio as its endemic pockets in parts of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar were among the most difficult places in the world for polio eradication.
India overcame huge challenges, with a strong commitment that matched Rs 15,000 crore allocations over the years to stop polio. Implementing innovative strategies, the programme reaches an incredible 99 per cent coverage in polio campaigns, ensuring every child: even in the remotest corner of the country is protected against polio. India introduced the oral polio vaccine in 1985 in the Universal Immunisation Programme in the backdrop of over 200,000 cases of polio annually (as per estimates of the Indian Academy of Pediatrics). In 1995, the first national polio immunization campaign was held; since then two national and multiple sub-national campaigns are rolled out every year for children upto 5 years of age. In each national polio campaign, 23 lakh vaccinators, led by 155,000 supervisors, visit 20 crore households to immunize 17 crore children up to the age of 5 years. In each campaign 17 lakh new born children are tracked by polio vaccinators in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. The youngest children being at the highest risk, the strategy to identify and track them was introduced in UP and Bihar in the year 2006. To immunize children on the move, transit vaccinators are positioned at bus stands, auto rickshaw stands, railway stations, on running trains, market places and important road intersections. Nearly one crore children are immunized by the transit teams in each polio campaign, of them 100,000 on trains.
Focusing on the migrant population, the people on the move in search of livelihood who miss polio immunization in view of their transient nature, the programme covers 70,000 brick kilns and 38,000 construction sites. Nearly 45 lakh children are immunized in the high-risk migrant settlements in each polio campaign.
Since the start of the polio campaigns in 1995, as many as 131 polio campaigns have been held in India till date, in which 1210 crore doses of polio vaccines have been administered till January 2014. Before each polio campaign, nearly 10 lakh microplans are updated to ensure that no child is missed. Almost 15 lakh vaccine carriers are used for the campaign to make sure that the vaccine remains effective until it is administered.