India set to be declared polio-free
The World Health Organisation is set to officialy declare India a polio free nation soon as no polio cases have been detected in the country for the past three years.
India celebrates the third anniversary of being polio free on January 13, the most successful public health story of the past decade.
However, the experts are warning against complacency. The threat of cross-border importation still remains very real as Pakistan still records many cases of polio.
WHO's declaration comes as a remarkable achievement for a nation that saw more than one lakh babies crippled every year. Until 2009, India accounted for more than half the world's polio cases.
"The world thought that it would be very difficult for India to eradicate polio," said NK Arora of the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunization (NTAGI).
In 2011, Rukshsaar from Howrah in Bengal, who was then 2 years old, was the last polio case to have been detected in India. "I regret not getting my child vaccinated. Now, I tell other people not to make the same mistake," said Rukhsaar's father Abdul Shah.
In the past few years, India has mobilised 24 lakh volunteers and 1.5 lakh frontline workers in an anti-polio effort that costs the government Rs 1,000 crore every year. More than 17 crore children are immunised in each national round of polio vaccination which is held six to eight times a year.
In each nationwide polio campaign, 2.3 million vaccinators immunise nearly 172 million children. But the threat of importation from neighbouring countries like Afganistan and Nigeria and most of all Pakistan looms large over India. Pakistan is still a very real threat, say experts.
"We have a huge risk from our neighbour because the border is so porous. Besides the endemic countries have reinfected cuntries like Somalia. We cannot let this happen to our country," said Raman Bhatia, member of India National PolioPlus Committee (INPPC).
While polio has been eradicated, India still tops the world's list for child mortality and millions of children die in completely preventable conditions, like diarrhoea, and pneumonia. Hopefully the government will be able to fight these conditions as it overcame the demon of polio.