India will have made it one year, as of Friday, without a reported case of polio — a milestone everyone in the global health community is celebrating.
Except for maybe all those skeptics who say, or said, polio will never be eradicated.
The goal here is a world completely without polio, of course, since if this infectious disease exists anywhere it can spread everywhere — as China recently discovered.
But this accomplishment by India, which not that long ago had the world’s lion share of polio cases, does a lot to get us closer to the day when this crippling, sometimes deadly, disease is eradicated.
I’ve seen the ravages of polio in poor countries and, back in 2003 when I was a reporter for the Seattle PI, traveled to parts of India where the polio cases were exploding and reported on the country’s difficulties trying to rid itself of this infectious disease.
It may sound a simple enough goal to vaccinate all kids against polio, but it’s not. I can attest to how complex and challenging it has been — because of the nature of this disease, the lack of health care resources in the countries most in need and the various forms of political opposition that can emerge to obstruct what might seem to many an obvious good.
India’s not out of the woods yet and the disease remains entrenched in three countries, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria. But the fact that India appears to have completely rid itself of this disease is evidence that the global campaign to eradicate polio is that much closer to reality.
Indian health officials deserve a lot of credit for reaching this milestone, but credit for getting us where we are today should go first to Rotary International — which for decades has sustained the global vaccination effort against all odds (and lots of skepticism) — and then to organizations like UNICEF, the World Health Organization and, lately, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
The Gates Foundation has thrown a lot of money at this effort over the last ten years or so. Both Bill Gates and his father Bill Sr. also have been outspoken public champions of polio eradication — even to the point of apparently finally winning over the world’s leading polio eradication skeptic D.A. Henderson.
Here’s Bill Gates’ celebrating India’s achievement on Huffington Post
Other news stories of note:
Globe and Mail: How India conquered polio
Washington Post: Polio focus leaves other diseases behind
Reuters: India’s victory fuels endgame vaccine talks
Scientific American: India on track to be declared polio free