India Marks Major Milestone In Global Fight To Eradicate Polio

Rukhsar Kahatoon was 18 months old when she was diagnosed with polio exactly one year ago, on January 13, 2011. Today Rukhsar is a healthy 2 1/2 year old living in Howrah, close to Kolkata, West Bengal. She’s also the last recorded case of polio in India.

That India, a country which until a few years ago reported as many as 100,000 cases of polio a year — more cases than anywhere else in the world –  has been polio-free for a year, is a palpable milestone in the fight to eradicate the disease globally.

“India is a major, major victory,” Dr. Hamid Jafari, who leads the World Health Organization‘s polio eradication efforts in India, told NPR’s Shots blog. “It has established the feasibility beyond doubt of eradication. (If) it can be done under such tough conditions in India, this can be done anywhere else.”

Polio attacks the nervous system and can cause irreversible paralysis. Children under age five are most vulnerable. Until the early 1950′s, when Dr. Jonas Salk developed the first polio vaccine, the disease crippled more than a thousand children every day.

“It shows we’re going to get it done elsewhere,” John Hewko, CEO of Rotary International, which has spearheaded the global polio fight for three decades, said on MSNBC.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has been at the forefront of the battle, along with Rotary International and the World Health Organization (WHO). As Bill Gates pointed out, the India case demonstrates the disease can be halted “when countries combine the right elements – political will, quality immunization campaigns, and an entire nation’s determination.”

Worldwide polio cases have fallen by 99% since 1988 when the WHO launched the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. At that time, the disease was endemic in 125 countries. By contrast, there were only 620 new cases worldwide last year. Today’s India milestone also means polio is now endemic in only three countries: Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria.

Despite the victory, global eradication is still an uphill battle. Comprehensive immunization is the only way to prevent the disease. New cases have cropped up in China, where the cases were imported from Pakistan, and Chad, where they came from Nigeria, according to the NPR report.

Experts will cull through the data from India in the coming weeks to ensure they haven’t missed any cases. “If all the data comes in clear over the next few weeks, then India, for the first time, will show up as an unshaded area on WHO polio maps,” Sona Bari of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative said. “This is a great start to the year for India.”

As NPR noted, “The lessons from India will be sifted for years to come. But it’s clear that conquering polio in that nation of 1.2 billion people is as much a story of massive persuasion as it is one of medical science.”

Related Reading:

The Other 99%: World Polio Day Marks Progress Towards Eradication (VIDEO)

New Coalition Calls For New Investment In Global Health (VIDEO)

The Next Billion: Measles Immunizations Reach Milestone

Photo credit: ramesh_lalwani via flickr


Paul Blake ND
Paul Blake5 years ago

47,500 Children Paralized During Vaccination in India, How do Bill Malinda Gates Sleep?

While India was polio-free for a year, there has been a huge increase in non-polio acute flaccid paralysis (NPAFP). In 2011 there were an extra 47500 new cases of NPAFP. *Clinically indistinguishable from polio paralysis but twice as deadly, the incidence of NPAFP was directly proportional to doses of oral polio received. Through this data was collected within the polio surveillance system, it was not investigated. The principle of primum-non-nocere was violated. The authors suggest that the huge bill of US$ 8 billion spent on the programme, is a small sum to pay if the world learns to be wary of such verticle programmes in the future. “For of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: 'It might have been!” John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892)

Whenever a doctor cannot do good, he must be kept from doing harm.


Doc Blake

Polio programme: let us declare victory and move on identical
Indian Journal of Medical Ethics Vol IX No 2 April - June 2012 Page 114-7.
Neetu Vashisht, Jacob Puliyel

mariana c.
mariana c5 years ago


Estelita atti5 years ago


Peter Mengos
Peter Mengos6 years ago


Suzanne Loewen
Suzanne L6 years ago

Polio never completely went away. It was halted in North America and most of Europe through comprehensive immunization programs. In other parts of the world these programs never got off the ground before. CHEERS TO INDIA FOR THIS ACCOMPLISHMENT. As the article says new cases crop up where there are unprotected people. This could happen in the U.S. and Canada too. The way people travel around the world today we are still vulnerable if not immunized.

Brian M.
Past Member 6 years ago

I suspect they used medical science to accomplish this and NOT any of the tripe written by Deepak Chopra.

Tim L.
Tim Landry6 years ago

Again as a polio survivor I am not really sure how it came back. I always thought the vaccines had eliminated it. Is this "reappearance" due to people not being vaccinated - for whatever reason? (choice - DUMB! - or no access to the vaccine)? For decades we never heard of it - and then 10 or 15 years ago I remember reading about it coming back. If you are offered (or your kids are) the vaccine - take it. There are (to the best of my memory) three levels of polio - the least serious (the one I had) which left me with severe scoliosis and minor health issues - the medium grade (which cripples you) and the severe type (which kills). Once you have one grade you are apparently immune to that level - but without the vaccine you can still get the others. I remember the fear that circulated when the "bug" was around. You think SARS is bad? HAH

Sam M.
Sam E M6 years ago

I had a friend at school who suffered with polio and was in a wheelchair, so we were all aware of the ravages it could cause. It's good to hear that at last it may be possible to eradicate it in the near future.

Arild Warud

Great news.

Jose Ramon Fisher Rodrigu

Congratulations India!