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India, Formerly The World’s Epicenter Of Polio, Celebrates A Polio-Free Year

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India, Formerly The World’s Epicenter Of Polio, Celebrates A Polio-Free Year

India, once recognized as the world’s epicenter of polio, appears to have completed one year without polio since its last case in January 13, 2011.

AsianScientist (Jan. 17, 2012) – India, once recognized as the world’s epicenter of polio, appears to have interrupted wild poliovirus transmission, completing one year without polio since its last case, in a two-year-old girl in the state of West Bengal, on January 13, 2011.

The number of polio-endemic countries, those which have never stopped indigenous wild poliovirus transmission, will then be reduced to a historical low of three: Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Pakistan.

In 2011, Afghanistan and Pakistan both saw alarming increases in polio cases, and poliovirus from Pakistan re-infected China (which had been polio-free since 1999). In Africa, active polio transmission continues in Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Nigeria.

The scale of the eradication effort in India is mind-boggling: each year, more than 170 million children under the age of five are vaccinated in two national immunization campaigns, with up to 70 million children in the highest-risk areas vaccinated multiple times in additional special campaigns; the whole effort requires nearly a billion doses of oral polio vaccine annually.

By 2013, India will have contributed US$2 billion to polio eradication in the country, with it being a largely self-financed effort.

“India’s success is arguably its greatest public health achievement and has provided a global opportunity to push for the end of polio,” said WHO Director-General Margaret Chan.

“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,” Chan said.

Rotary International first launched the global polio eradication effort in 1985, and RI President Kalyan Banerjee said that with the intensity of transmission in India, many experts had predicted it would be the last country in the world to achieve eradication.

“India is undoubtedly the biggest domino to fall in the polio eradication effort,” he said.

However, there remains no room for complacency, said the Director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Thomas Frieden. India must maintain sensitive surveillance and high childhood immunity against wild poliovirus to guard against any importation of polio until eradication is achieved globally.

“Polio can be stopped when countries combine the right elements – political will, quality immunization campaigns, and an entire nation’s determination,” said Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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,” Gates said.

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