India closer than ever to eradicating polio
Rotarians from several countries joined their counterparts in India to promote and participate in the 23 January NID. Photo courtesy of India PolioPlus Committee
R ecent successes in India’s relentless effort to eradicate polio are raising hopes that the goal is in sight. The incidence of the disease is at a record low, with only one case reported in 2011, as of 1 March, and just 42 in all of 2010. That compares with 741 cases the year before.
A major factor is the widespread use of the bivalent oral polio vaccine, which is effective against both types of the poliovirus. Another is rigorous monitoring, which helped reduce the number of children missed during National Immunization Days (NIDs) to less than 1 percent in 2010, compared with 14 percent in 2009, according to the World Health Organization.
During NIDs in January and February, Rotarians helped immunize children; organize free health camps and polio awareness rallies; and distribute banners, caps, face masks, comic books, and other items to children. Sporting signature yellow vests and caps, the volunteers fanned out to sites including schools, train stations, and bus depots across the country.
Teams of visiting Rotarians from Hong Kong, Italy, Korea, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom also took part in activities related to the 23 January NID, which immunized 174 million children.
In Veraval, Gujarat, a city of about 340,000 people, Rotarians and others worked at more than 100 immunization booths. “The town clearly bought into the whole project, and kids were flowing into the booths for immunizations,” reports a Group Study Exchange team from District 9980 (New Zealand).
In Murshidabad, the highest-risk area for polio in West Bengal, Rotarian and non-Rotarian doctors organized health camps to screen and treat children for other illnesses and immunize them against the crippling disease. Had it not been for the camps, “many of those children may have remained unvaccinated,” says Jenny Horton, a nurse, veteran Rotary volunteer, and member of the Rotary Club of Kenmore, Queensland, Australia.
Rotarians in India “have learned to take the battle against polio to every nook and corner,” says Rotary Foundation Trustee Ashok Mahajan. “It is time to step on the eradication accelerator.”
Says Deepak Kapur, chair of the India PolioPlus Committee: “What we have achieved in the country through the PolioPlus program is historic and, despite some last-minute difficulties, the goal of eradicating the disease is within reach. We now need to strengthen and focus our strategy ... in endemic regions to finish off this final battle toward a polio-free India.”