(Photo: SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP/Getty Images)
Today, India marks three years since its last reported polio case — a milestone leading up to an expected announcement in the coming months from the World Health Organization (WHO) declaring India polio-free. The WHO previously removed the country from its list of polio-endemic countries in 2012, the BBC reports.
India's achievement is a result of a massive vaccination campaign that has cost nearly $1.73 billion and taken almost two decades, according to the Wall Street Journal. It also marks a significant step toward the WHO's goal of achieving global eradication of polio by the end of 2014.
"India was by far the hardest place in the world to get rid of polio," Bill Gates told the Wall Street Journal. Gates co-chairs the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has been a major funder of the campaign against polio. In an essay published last year, the Microsoft co-founder noted the various challenges India faced in its fight against polio, including dispersed rural communities and poor sanitation.
However, the BBC notes that India's elimination of the disease could be derailed by its neighbour Pakistan, one of three countries, along with Nigeria and Afghanistan, still considered polio-endemic. And polio cases recently reappeared in Syria for the first time in 14 years.
According to the Gates Foundation, Nigeria and Afghanistan saw a 67 and 50 per cent drop in cases, respectively, from 2012 to 2013. Pakistan, though, faces significant hurdles: the majority of its cases are in inaccessible areas and health care workers regularly face attacks by Taliban militants. Last weekend, the Times of India reported that 70 health care workers had refused to participate in vaccinations in the Khyber region following the death of their colleagues. And according to the WHO, the country saw an increase in polio cases from 2012 to 2013.
India's journey to elimination, meanwhile, has been hard-fought. According to the WHO, India had 38,090 polio cases in 1981 and still accounted for half of the cases in the world in 2009. The success of its vaccination campaign, which started in 1995, required overcoming fears in the population.
"I could name 300 challenges, but the main one was fighting apathy and ignorance among political bigwigs and among beneficiaries themselves," Deepak Kapur, head of Rotary International's polio campaign in India, told the Wall Street Journal. Many in the population, Kapur added, also resisted the vaccine after hearing rumors that it would cause infertility or contained substances prohibited by Islamic scripture.
That India managed to eliminate the disease in the face of such obstacles offers hope that the WHO will meet its goal of eradication by the end of this year. In April 2013, The Gates Foundation pledged $1.95 billion to the cause through 2018.
Via BBC News