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India celebrates three years polio-free

© AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-01-13

India on Monday marked three years since its last reported polio case, meaning it will soon be certified as having defeated the crippling virus in a huge boost for global eradication efforts, the World Health Organization (WHO) said.

Indian Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, along with global groups who have been working to eliminate the virus, hailed the three-year mark as “a monumental milestone”, which has been attributed to an extensive vaccination programme.

“In 2009, India accounted for over half of the global polio burden and today is the historic day when we have completed three years without a single case of wild polio,” Azad said at a news conference in New Delhi.

Until the 1950s, polio affected thousands every year in rich countries. The disease attacks the nervous system and can cause irreversible paralysis within hours of infection. Polio often spreads in areas with poor sanitation -- a factor that made it particularly widespread in India

But vaccination initiatives have proven highly effective.

In India, the effort kicked off in the mid-1990s, overseen by the Indian government, a coalition of charities, private donors and UN agencies. An army of more than two million vaccinators, supported by local religious and community leaders, canvassed villages, slums, train stations and public gatherings in even the most remote parts of the country to boost awareness.

Pakistan still a problem

Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria are the only countries in the world today where the disease remains endemic, though the number of cases is on the decline in the latter two countries.

Polio in Pakistan, however, is still considered a serious problem, with Taliban militants attacking vaccinators whom they accuse of acting as Western spies. Those suspicions have intensified since a fake vaccination programme was used by the CIA to provide cover for operatives tracking al Qaeda chief Osama Bin Laden before he was killed in May 2011.

Hopes for combating polio in Pakistan were given a boost last month when cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan pledged to personally spearhead vaccination efforts in the troubled northwest of the country.

Meanwhile, there have been isolated polio outbreaks in the Somali and Kenya, as well as war-torn Syria in 2013, causing concern among global health experts.

(FRANCE 24 with Reuters and AFP)

 

Date created : 2014-01-13

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