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India Declared Polio-Free By WHO — But There’s Still Work To Be Done To Rid The World Of The Disease
March 27, 2014
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This Vine, released by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, dramatically illustrates the global success at eradicating the disease from the planet

Today, the World Health Organization celebrated a significant milestone in the fight against polio by declaring the entire WHO South-East Asia Region free of the disease. The region is comprised of 11 member states that together make up a quarter of the world's population, and includes India, which was the final state to reach polio-free status.

“This is a momentous victory for the millions of health workers who have worked with governments, nongovernmental organizations, civil society and international partners to eradicate polio from the Region," said Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director for the WHO South-East Asia Region, in a statement. "It is a sign of what we can bequeath our children when we work together."

India's journey to elimination 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. Today's victory follows an extensive vaccination campaign, which started in 1995 and cost nearly $2 billion.


An Indian child receiving a polio vaccine in Amritsar, India (Photo: NARINDER NANU/AFP/Getty Images)

To be declared polio-free, a region must go three years without a new diagnosis of the disease. India's last diagnosis was on January 13, 2011. Three other regions have previously been certified: the Americas, in 1994, Western Pacific, in 2000 and Europe, in 2002.

In 1988, there were 125 countries where the disease was considered endemic, but as of 2014, that number is down to just three: Nigeria, Afghanistan and India's neighbour Pakistan.

And while both Nigerian and Afghanistan saw a drop in cases from 2012 to 2013, Pakistan still faces significant hurdles, not least the ongoing violence against polio vaccination workers. On March 1, 11 people, including one eight-year-old, were killed when two vans carrying a vaccination team were bombed in the country's northern Khyber Agency region.

And the past week has seen two such attacks. On Monday, the body of a female polio worker was discovered riddled with bullets in Peshawar, northwest Pakistan. NBC reports that local officials allege that militants had entered her home, tied up her husband and tortured her children. And today, two gunmen opened fire on a team in the southwestern Baluchistan province, killing a police officer who was guarding them.

Militant groups in the country have alleged that polio vaccination campaigns are in fact a front for U.S. spying, and have violently opposed them. Although there was no immediate claim of responsibility for the latest attacks, groups associated with the Pakistani Taliban have explicitly made such claims on previous occasions.

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