By Anupriya Singh
Edited by Liz maria Kuriakose, Associate Editor, The Indian Economist
The day India made it to the list of polio-free nations; the entire world in unison applauded this Indian version of success story. It has been dubbed as the greatest public health feat ever. Microsoft co-founder and Chairman Bill Gates branded India’s accomplishment in eradicating polio as the most impressive global health success he has ever seen. This war against polio wasn’t an easy one. The journey was topsy-turvy. There were years when it seemed we had an upper hand and there were those testing phases when cases of polio from the state of Uttar Pradesh constituted nearly two-third of the total worldwide figures.
It was the triumph of a strong political will along with international cooperation with bodies like WHO, UNICEF, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Rotary International to name a few. A massive proportion of this success is credited to the army of over a two million who are committed and hardworking vaccinators who waded across creeks and tamed difficult terrains to reach out with the vaccines to every child below the age of 5, a daunting challenge for our nation where millions of vulnerable citizens dwell in remote areas. The process of locating these high risk areas gave birth to India’s most extensive public health surveillance system, the National Polio Surveillance Project.
The fact that India fully funded its own anti-polio plan is a testament of the Indian diligence and efficiency. The campaign throughout witnessed immense support from all the strata of the society including ordinary people, health workers, social intellectuals and some of the poorest people of the society in the most impoverished regions, thus awakening the true power and potential of India. It exhibited to the world the finest and the best of our nation in the field of human resource, political vision, scientific potential, industrial advancement, teamwork, optimism and the resilience spirit of the Indians.
Amidst all these rosy examples and the picture perfect outcome, a crucial point overlooked by many here is that our neighborhood nation of Pakistan, with an undisputed consistency, is one of the three countries to feature on the list of nations with pertaining polio cases. Hence, there is a high risk of resurgence of the poliomyelitis infection on our home soil. The sudden spurt of hundreds of polio cases in polio-free nations like Yemen, Indonesia and Sudan (due to its polio infected neighbor Nigeria) is a testament to this fact. Since 2000, more than 40 countries that were declared polio free reported polio cases arising from the importation of the poliovirus.
For a disease like polio there is no cure, just prevention or life-long scars. This calls for the public health-care sector to introduce a revamped prevention policy to ascertain no such emergence. What is needed is a high population immunity through mass vaccination programs and surveillance to locate any importations. Wisdom and expertise gained over the years of the fight against polio should be put to use now. Once a war is over, warriors should drop their weapons but not give up, closely observing what remains of the enemy (an intruder in this case) who neither parts from their guns. It is high time we bring back Amitabh Bachachan to our TV sets for those iconic pulse-polio ravivaar advertisements. Once again, let our radios boom “Do boond, zindagi ki”.
Anupriya is a second year undergraduate student in Economics at Lady Shri Ram College for Women, New Delhi. An avid reader, she wants to travel across India to comprehend the varied façade of the Indian culture and traditions. Apart from academics, Anupriya has also dabbled in extracurricular activities like debate and documentary making. She has won numerous awards for her documentaries on social issues. Sports, primarily football, and painting constitute her main interests.