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India on track to become polio-free, says UN health agency

Article / Review by on January 12, 2012 – 9:46 pmNo Comments

India on track to become polio-free, says UN health agency

Children with polio at the Amar Jyoti Research Centre, Delhi, India. Photo: WHO/P. VirotChildren with polio at the Amar Jyoti Research Centre, Delhi, India. Photo: WHO/P. Virot


UN agencies hail key role of national efforts as India reaches a milestone
United Nations, New York, January 2012 – With no registered polio cases over the past year, India is on course to becoming free of the disease, the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) reported today.

If all pending samples for the virus test negative, India — once regarded as the world’s epicentre for polio — will become free of the disease for the first time in its history, reducing the number of polio-endemic countries to three: Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria./Added on Jan 13, 2012

With no registered polio cases over the past year, India is on course to becoming free of the disease, the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) reported today.

If all pending samples for the virus test negative, India – once regarded as the world’s epicentre for polio – will become free of the disease for the first time in its history, reducing the number of polio-endemic countries to three: Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria.

“India’s success is arguably its greatest public health achievement and has provided a global opportunity to push for the end of polio,” WHO Director-General Margaret Chan stated in a news release.

“Stopping polio in India required creativity, perseverance and professionalism – many of the innovations in polio eradication were sparked by the challenges in India. The lessons from India must now be adapted and implemented through emergency actions to finish polio everywhere,” she said.

UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Executive Director Anthony Lake attributed India’s remarkable progress to strong leadership at a national and state level, which pushed for the launch of a comprehensive polio eradication programme that enabled very poor and populous states to have high immunization coverage.

“India’s achievement is proof positive that we can eradicate polio even in the most challenging environments – in fact, it is only by targeting these areas that we can defeat this evil disease,” Mr Lake said.

“We have the ability to protect every last person, especially children, from this entirely preventable disease – and because we can, we must finish the job of eradicating polio globally, once and for all.”

The scale of the eradication effort has been described by WHO as “mind-boggling,” with 170 million children under the age of five being vaccinated each year in two national immunization campaigns, and up to 70 million children in the highest-risk areas being vaccinated multiple times in additional special campaigns.

Implementing the campaigns also required a big financial commitment from the Government. According to WHO, India will have by next year have spent $2 billion in eradication efforts, making it one of the largest donors to polio eradication.

In spite of the current progress, WHO warned that there is no room for complacency. “It is a very welcome milestone, but it is not the end of the road,” WHO’s spokesperson for the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, Sona Bari, told UN Radio.

She added that the Government of India must remain vigilant and respond very rapidly to guard itself against any importation of polio from other countries.

The Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) is spearheaded by national governments, WHO, Rotary International, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and UNICEF.

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India records one year without polio cases

One year polio free in India is a major achievement; the country was once the world’s epicentre of polio

12 JANUARY 2012 | ATLANTA/EVANSTON/GENEVA/NEW YORK/SEATTLEIndia appears to have interrupted wild poliovirus transmission, completing one year without polio since its last case, in a 2-year-old girl in the state of West Bengal, on 13 January 2011.

India was once recognized as the world’s epicentre of polio. If all pending laboratory investigations return negative, in the coming weeks India will officially be deemed to have stopped indigenous transmission of wild poliovirus. The number of polio-endemic countries, those which have never stopped indigenous wild poliovirus transmission, will then be reduced to a historical low of three: Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan.

However, there remains no room for complacency. India must maintain sensitive surveillance and high childhood immunity against wild poliovirus to guard against any importation of polio until eradication is achieved globally. In 2011, Afghanistan and Pakistan have both seen alarming increases in polio cases, and poliovirus from Pakistan re-infected China (which had been polio-free since 1999). In Africa, active polio transmission continues in Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Nigeria, with outbreaks in West and Central Africa in the past 12 months reminding the world that as long as polio exists anywhere, it remains a threat everywhere.

Global health leaders today paid tribute to the Government of India for its leadership and financial commitment to the polio eradication effort, and to the millions of vaccinators, community mobilizers, Rotarians, parents and caregivers who have supported polio eradication for more than a decade. The scale of the eradication effort in India is mind-boggling: each year, more than 170 million children under the age of 5 are vaccinated in two national immunization campaigns, with up to 70 million children in the highest-risk areas vaccinated multiple times in additional special campaigns; the whole effort requires nearly a billion doses of oral polio vaccine annually.

Hundreds of thousands of children will be saved

India’s achievement in stopping polio will save hundreds of thousands of children from lifelong paralysis or death each year. Poliovirus can travel easily to polio-free areas. Stopping polio in India will prevent a recurrence of the polio outbreaks – due to virus of Indian origin – seen in recent years in countries as diverse as Angola, Bangladesh, Nepal, Russia and Tajikistan.

An opportunity to end polio

“India’s success is arguably its greatest public health achievement and has provided a global opportunity to push for the end of polio,” said WHO Director-General Margaret Chan. “The Global Polio Eradication Initiative is in full emergency mode and focused on using this momentum to close this crippling disease down. Stopping polio in India required creativity, perseverance and professionalism – many of the innovations in polio eradication were sparked by the challenges in India. The lessons from India must now be adapted and implemented through emergency actions to finish polio everywhere.”

The key to India’s remarkable progress in the fight against polio according to UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake, has been the strong leadership of the Government of India and state governments, which launched a comprehensive polio eradication programme that has enabled sustained high immunization coverage in states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar with high rates of poverty, high population density and poor sanitation and infrastructure, conditions in which disease like polio can thrive.

Polio can be eradicated in challenging environments

“India’s achievement is proof positive that we can eradicate polio even in the most challenging environments – in fact, it is only by targeting these areas that we can defeat this evil disease,” Mr Lake said. “We have the ability to protect every last person, especially children, from this entirely preventable disease – and because we can, we must finish the job of eradicating polio globally, once and for all.”

Rotary International first launched the global polio eradication effort in 1985, and President Kalyan Banerjee said that with the intensity of transmission in India, many experts had predicted it would be the last country in the world to achieve eradication. “India is undoubtedly the biggest domino to fall in the polio eradication effort,” Mr Banerjee said. “India’s success is a great credit to the Indian government and to Indian Rotary members – as well as those from around the world – who have worked with local leaders to conduct these immunization efforts to reach every child with the polio vaccine.”

India must continue to protect its children from polio

Like all countries that have stopped indigenous wild poliovirus transmission, India must continue to protect its children through supplementary immunization activities and improved routine immunization coverage rates or risk a potentially horrific re-importation event, said the Director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Thomas Frieden. “Polio’s history contains many cautionary tales,” Dr. Frieden added. “Polio anywhere in the world is a risk everywhere in the world, and to protect itself from a setback, India is appropriately planning to continue meticulous monitoring and intensive childhood vaccination against polio.”

Ensuring no child suffers polio

“Polio can be stopped when countries combine the right elements – political will, quality immunization campaigns, and an entire nation’s determination” said Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “World leaders must continue to raise the funds needed to run the global campaign and help to ensure that no child suffers from this crippling disease ever again.”

With India’s achievement, the global polio eradication effort now focuses on improving the implementation of emergency operations plans in Chad, Nigeria and Pakistan. Success depends on local ownership and accountability at all levels of government and international partners.

Notes to editors

India is one of the largest donors to polio eradication, being largely self-financed. By 2013, India will have contributed US$ 2 billion.

When all pending specimens are processed (stools from children with acute flaccid paralysis and samples from sewage sampling), if no wild poliovirus is detected, India will no longer be considered polio-endemic. The laboratory system is expected to clear all samples within 4–6 weeks of collection.

The Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) is spearheaded by national governments, WHO, Rotary International, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and UNICEF.

For more information, please contact:

Sona Bari
Telephone: +41 79 475 5511
E-mail: baris@who.int

Tarik Jasarevic
Telephone: +41 79 747 27 56
E-mail: jasarevict@who.int

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About World Health Organization (WHO)

WHO is the directing and coordinating authority for health within the United Nations system. It is responsible for providing leadership on global health matters, shaping the health research agenda, setting norms and standards, articulating evidence-based policy options, providing technical support to countries and monitoring and assessing health trends.

World Health Organization (WHO)

In the 21st century, health is a shared responsibility, involving equitable access to essential care and collective defence against transnational threats.

WHO fulfils its objectives through its core functions:

  • providing leadership on matters critical to health and engaging in partnerships where joint action is needed;
  • shaping the research agenda and stimulating the generation, translation and dissemination of valuable knowledge;
  • setting norms and standards and promoting and monitoring their implementation;
  • articulating ethical and evidence-based policy options;
  • providing technical support, catalysing change, and building sustainable institutional capacity
  • monitoring the health situation and assessing health trends.

The WHO agenda

WHO operates in an increasingly complex and rapidly changing landscape. The boundaries of public health action have become blurred, extending into other sectors that influence health opportunities and outcomes. WHO responds to these challenges using a six-point agenda. The six points address two health objectives, two strategic needs, and two operational approaches. The overall performance of WHO will be measured by the impact of its work on women’s health and health in Africa.

1. Promoting development

During the past decade, health has achieved unprecedented prominence as a key driver of socioeconomic progress, and more resources than ever are being invested in health. Yet poverty continues to contribute to poor health, and poor health anchors large populations in poverty. Health development is directed by the ethical principle of equity: Access to life-saving or health-promoting interventions should not be denied for unfair reasons, including those with economic or social roots. Commitment to this principle ensures that WHO activities aimed at health development give priority to health outcomes in poor, disadvantaged or vulnerable groups. Attainment of the health-related Millennium Development Goals, preventing and treating chronic diseases and addressing the neglected tropical diseases are the cornerstones of the health and development agenda.

2. Fostering health security

Shared vulnerability to health security threats demands collective action. One of the greatest threats to international health security arises from outbreaks of emerging and epidemic-prone diseases. Such outbreaks are occurring in increasing numbers, fuelled by such factors as rapid urbanization, environmental mismanagement, the way food is produced and traded, and the way antibiotics are used and misused. The world’s ability to defend itself collectively against outbreaks has been strengthened since June 2007, when the revised International Health Regulations came into force.

3. Strengthening health systems

For health improvement to operate as a poverty-reduction strategy, health services must reach poor and underserved populations. Health systems in many parts of the world are unable to do so, making the strengthening of health systems a high priority for WHO. Areas being addressed include the provision of adequate numbers of appropriately trained staff, sufficient financing, suitable systems for collecting vital statistics, and access to appropriate technology including essential drugs.

4. Harnessing research, information and evidence

Evidence provides the foundation for setting priorities, defining strategies, and measuring results. WHO generates authoritative health information, in consultation with leading experts, to set norms and standards, articulate evidence-based policy options and monitor the evolving global heath situation.

5. Enhancing partnerships

WHO carries out its work with the support and collaboration of many partners, including UN agencies and other international organizations, donors, civil society and the private sector. WHO uses the strategic power of evidence to encourage partners implementing programmes within countries to align their activities with best technical guidelines and practices, as well as with the priorities established by countries.

6. Improving performance

WHO participates in ongoing reforms aimed at improving its efficiency and effectiveness, both at the international level and within countries. WHO aims to ensure that its strongest asset – its staff – works in an environment that is motivating and rewarding. WHO plans its budget and activities through results-based management, with clear expected results to measure performance at country, regional and international levels.

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About United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)

United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) logo

UNICEF works in 190 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence. The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS. UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments. For more information about UNICEF and its work visit: www.unicef.org

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> United Nations (UN).

The General Assembly in session. Photo credit: UN / Eskinder Debebe The United Nations was established on 24 October 1945 by 51 countries committed to preserving peace through international cooperation and collective security. Today, nearly every nation in the world belongs to the UN: membership totals 192 countries.

When States become Members of the United Nations, they agree to accept the obligations of the UN Charter, an international treaty that sets out basic principles of international relations. According to the Charter, the UN has four purposes:

  • to maintain international peace and security;
  • to develop friendly relations among nations;
  • to cooperate in solving international problems and in promoting respect for human rights;
  • and to be a centre for harmonizing the actions of nations.

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* The above story is adapted from materials provided by United Nations (UN)
** More information at United Nations (UN)

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