India declared polio-free

India was once the world’s most polio-ridden country, but strong action has now eradicated the disease, paving the way towards a polio-free Southeast Asia

India has been declared polio-free after three years without a reported case of the disease.

In 2009 India reported 741 poliomyelitis (polio) infections, almost half of the world’s 1,604 cases. Five years on and the country’s health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad has declared the disease eradicated. The last case was recorded on 13 January 2011.

“India was once considered the most difficult place in the world to eradicate polio,” said Sona Bari from the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. “This was due to a unique combination of a dense and high population, high diarrhoea rates and high migration levels.”

In order to tackle the disease – which is spread through contaminated food and water, and can cause permanent paralysis – India carried out an extensive eradication programme which included measures such as migration point immunisation camps and the involvement of religious leaders to raise awareness of the issue.

The eradication of polio in India marks a significant step towards a polio-free Southeast Asia, which is expected to be officially announced later this year by the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Regional Certification Commission.

However, the possibility of polio returning can’t be ruled out.

“Several polio outbreaks in 2013 were linked to virus from the remaining endemic countries,” said Dr Carol Pandak, director of Polio Plus, Rotary International’s global polio programme. “Polio is a threat everywhere as long as it exists anywhere.”

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