India is marking three years without any new recorded cases of polio – a feat that is expected to prompt the World Health Organisation (WHO) to declare the country polio-free in March.
The war to eradicate polio has been one of India’s public health success stories with a relentless and orchestrated public campaign to reach to the remotest corners of the country over a decade.
Until 2009, India accounted for more than half the world’s polio cases, reports say.
An 18-month-old baby detected with polio in January 2011 in Howrah near the eastern city of Kolkata was the last reported case of the disease in the country.
Medical experts, however, warn against complacency as the threat of risk continues from porous borders that allow migration and spread of polio to India from Pakistan and Afghanistan.
In 2013, isolated polio outbreaks reported in Syria and Horn of Africa made health experts cautious.
Re-infection has been recorded of the endemic in countries such as Somalia.
“We cannot let this happen to our country”, said Raman Bhatia, member of India National PolioPlus Committee (INPPC) in a CNN IBN report.
The WHO is expected to formally declare India as polio-free with an ascertaining report in March.
|Al Jazeera’s Osama Bin Javaid reports from Pakistan where polio remains endemic|
India’s nationwide anti-polio campaign began with a vaccination programme in the mid-1990s. The federal government was supported by non-profit groups, UN agencies and prominent individuals including Bollywood stars who were roped for publicity of the campaign.
India’s PolioPlus campaign had 2,400,000 volunteers and more than 150,000 community workers to carry out the immunisation programme. The free polio vaccination cost the government Rs 1000 crore ($160 million).
Reports say polio vaccinations are held 608 times annually and 2.3 million vaccinators are used to immunise more than 170 million children yearly.
India’s record of going polio-free for the last three years was called “a monumental milestone” by Nicole Deutsch, head of the polio operations for UN’s children’s arm UNICEF, reports say.