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India has “never been closer” to wiping out polio, India’s health minister has declared as he marked World Polio Day.
There have been no new cases for more than nine months, making it the longest polio-free period since the global eradication campaign was launched. The only case reported this year was in the state of West Bengal in January. There were 39 cases reported over a similar period in 2010.
India is one of only four countries in the world where polio is still endemic. The virus is also prevalent in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria.
The overall trend in India is so positive that its vaccination programme is being discussed as one other countries might learn from.
Pakistan is a particular concern. It has seen 118 new cases so far this year concentrated in poor, insecure areas: Karachi, Baluchistan and the tribal areas close to the border with Afghanistan.
The two countries routinely re-infect each other. Afghanistan has seen 40 new cases this year. The continuing violence there also makes it hard to reach vulnerable children. Nigeria too has seen a surge in cases this year which have undermined recent gains…
Some communities simply do not trust the people who administer the vaccine and fear it could hurt their children… But they trust their priests.
The health ministry reported that no cases were reported from the northern state of Uttar Pradesh for 18 months…
Uttar Pradesh has been one of the worst-affected regions in the world’s fight against polio with hundreds of cases reported until a few years ago. Of the 549 polio cases in India in 2008, 297 were in Uttar Pradesh.
It is especially heartwarming for a grayhead like me to witness this victory. I grew up in a time when polio threatened all societies. Beaches and pools were often closed in summer because of the threat of contagion. All of us knew someone in every neighborhood who died or was left paralyzed by the disease.
I experienced each stage of vaccine development from early days of the first vaccinations, needle sticks and terrified children as kids always are over needles – on through to oral vaccines. The relief experienced by my parents, all parents in the factory town I grew up in. The minority of superstitious nutballs who kept their kids from safety were looked at as fools who fortunately only constituted a danger to themselves – and unfortunately to their own children.