March 2, 2012 Liz Borkowski, MPH 3Comment

The World Health Organization has confirmed that India has gone a whole year without having a new case of polio — a major milestone in a country that was once plagued by the crippling disease. BBC’s Fergus Walsh explains that the country won’t formally be regarded as polio-free until it’s gone another two years without a case of the disease, but reaching the one-year mark is still an occasion for celebration. In an earlier piece, Walsh describes the massive polio vaccination effort that has allowed the country to achieve this success; India’s government partnered with the World Health Organization, Rotary, UNICEF, and the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation.

Public health successes like this one require a sustained commitment from institutions (governmental and non) and participation from support from entire populations. And when it comes to viruses, we can’t truly declare victory until they’ve been eradicated worldwide. Last fall, Maryn McKenna highlighted disturbing findings from an indpendent monitoring board, which warned that global polio eradication efforts need to address negative news and criticisms more productively in order to get back on track. And Walsh notes that nearly one-third of the polio cases reported last year were in Pakistan, which shares a border with India and could lead to reintroduction of the virus there.

For the moment, though, it’s worth congratulating India on its success and remembering that ambitious public health goals are attainable and worth reaching.

3 thoughts on “Public health success story: India reaches polio-free milestone

  1. Any thoughts as to why their is no mention of the 60,000 cases of acute flaccid paralysis in India… in a fomer era these cases would have been classified as polio… the 60,000 people paralysed do not understand the political difference between polio and AFP… clinically there isn’t any…

  2. In polio surveillance, samples from AFP cases are analyzed for evidence of wild polio virus. According to CDC, India has a high rate of nonpolio acute flaccid paralysis (NPAFP). But to a patient or family inclined to be skeptical of lab results, I can understand that this might look like the polio virus is still circulating.

  3. India’s public health network is ever improving. Tactics and practices from the country’s successful collaborations to erradicate smallpox in the 1960’s and 70’s are probably assisting them with the polio effort. It is amazing what a growing, well oiled public health network is capable of.

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