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India set to be declared polio-free

India is marking three years since they last recorded a case of polio, with a formal announcement expected to come from WHO next month.

By Ananth Baliga

The world's most populous democracy is set to be declared polio-free.

India registered its last polio case on January 13, 2011, and has now reached the end of a three-year gestation period required by the World Health Organization to declare a country polio-free.

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This is a major milestone for India after it was removed from the list of polio-endemic countries in 2012. The list still features its neighbor Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria. The WHO is expected to make its formal announcement next month after completing its last samples.

"This monumental milestone was possible due to unwavering political will at the highest level, commitment of adequate financial resources, technological innovation ... and the tireless efforts of millions of workers including more than 23 lakh (2.3 million) vaccinators," said Indian health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad.

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India last reported a polio case in 2011, after a girl from the eastern state of West Bengal was diagnosed. This was an improvement from 2009 data, which documented 741 polio cases, more than any other nation at that time.

After the eradication of smallpox in 1980, polio immunizations and eradication have been the focus of the Indian government. During every round of immunization nearly 2.3 million volunteers vaccinate 170 million children under the age of five.

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India has faced daunting challenges to eradicating polio, such as high population density and birth rate, socio-economic and cultural diversity and a burdened healthcare system. The introduction of the bivalent oral polio vaccine in 2010, which protects against type 1 poliovirus transmission and type 3, was seen as one of the contributing factors to this success.

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"If it can be done in India, it can be eradicated in any conditions. For any country not to succeed it is a lack of commitment, gaps in implementation and poor quality work," said Dr. Hamid Jafari, head of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative at the WHO.

Countries like Somalia and Syria are seeing a resurgence of the disease after vaccination programs have been hampered by internal strife. Pakistan, which has seen an increase in polio cases from 58 in 2012 to 85 cases last year, and Afghanistan have had their vaccination programs stopped because of attacks by militants who see it as western propaganda.

[The Independent] [BBC]

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