The World Health Organisation (WHO) on 27 March 2014 certified India as a Polio Free country. This action of WHO made India one of the 11 countries of South-East Region to be free from polio virus.
The official certificate was received by Ghulam Nabi Azad, the Union Health Minister in New Delhi. The polio was eradicated from the country with the help of technological innovations like indigenous bivalent polio vaccines, close monitoring of polio programme and adequate domestic financial resources.
India’s victory over polio disease paved the way for polio-free certification for the South East Asia region of the WHO. The achievement has also made the South-East Asian Region, fourth WHO Region for being certified as polio-free. This certification was given by an independent commission under the WHO certification process. This region is a home for about a quarter of world’s population. The WHO South East Asia Region has 11 Member States namely Bangladesh, Bhutan, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, India, Indonesia, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Timor-Leste.
Last time in 2002, the European Region was certified as the third WHO Region to be certified as polio-free.
Other regions to be certified as the WHO Polio Free Region are
• Region of the Americas – certified as WHO Region in 1994
• Western Pacific Region – certified as WHO Region in 2000
With, this certification to the South-East Asian Region, now about 80 percent of world’s population lives in the polio-free certified regions.
Background of the process of certification to the South-East Asian Region
The decision of certifying all the 11 countries of South-East Asian Region as polio-free was taken by an independent panel of the South-East Asia Regional Certification Commission for Polio Eradication (SEA-RCCPE).
The certification came for the region came at time when countries are preparing to introduce Inactivate Polio Vaccine (IPV) as a replacement of the Oral Polio Vaccines (OPV). The IPV dose would be implemented in these countries by the end of 2015 as a part of their commitment to the Global Polio Endgame Plan. The plan has been introduced with an aim to ensure a polio-free world by 2018. At present, the IPV dose is provided in more than 120 countries of the world.
Steps taken by India to fight the polio disease
For the first time, India introduced the oral polio vaccine in 1985 under the Universal Immunisation Programme. The programme was started in the backdrop of over 200000 cases of polio annually (as per estimates of the Indian Academy of Pediatrics).
India’s first national polio immunization campaign to stop polio was launched in 1995 (19 years ago) after finding that the disease is crippling about 50000 children every year. Since then the country had two national and multiple sub-national campaigns, which were rolled every year for children in the age group of 5 years.
India would have been able to eradicate the disease much earlier if it would have succeeded in stopping polio in its endemic pockets in parts of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. These two States were named as the most difficult places in the world for eradication of the disease.
The last case of polio in India was reported on 13 January 2011 from Howrah district of West Bengal. Till 2009 India was a country that reported about half of global polio cases.
About poliomyelitis (polio)
Poliovirus is a highly infectious viral disease that is transmitted mainly from person-to-person through the fecal-oral route and on average, depending on the serotype (poliovirus type 1, 2 or 3). A single case of paralytic polio represents 200 to 1000 silent infections surrounding the case.
Polio is a disease that can be prevented only through immunization but there is no cure for it.
• Polio (poliomyelitis) is a disease that mainly affects children under age group of 5 years
• One in 200 infections leads to irreversible paralysis. Among those paralysed, 5 percent to 10 percent, die when their breathing muscles become immobilized.
• Polio cases have decreased by over 99 percent since 1988, from an estimated 350000 cases then, to 406 reported cases in 2013. The reduction is the result of the global effort to eradicate the disease.
At present, the disease remains endemic mainly in three countries namely Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria. In 1988, 125 countries were listed under this category.
Facts about Polio Certification
The forty-first World Health Assembly in 1988 adopted a resolution for the worldwide eradication of polio. The certification as polio free, any nation requires not having any registered case of wild polio for continuous three years in presence of high quality surveillance. This process for certification was established in 1995 during the first meet of the Global Certification Commission (GCC).
Comment: This progress of the country in eradication the disease is unprecedented because till 2009, India was a country that reported more than half of the global polio cases.