Staggering achievement of a polio-free India

From: Professor Bryan Woodward, Bishop Burton, Beverley.

THE near-elimination of poliomyelitis in India might seem far-removed from the everyday concerns of Yorkshire Post readers but it is highly significant news. While only older people remember children in callipers with flaccid legs (infantile paralysis) and adults in iron lungs, it is a depressing reality that unless polio is eradicated globally, a return of such horrors to this country may be only a flight away.

In 1985, Rotary International announced a plan to eradicate polio by vaccinating every at-risk child under five, and has since contributed more than £635m to implement this plan. In 1988, the World Health Organisation and UNICEF joined Rotary to launch the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.

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As a past-president of a Rotary Club (Loughborough Beacon), I have taken part in a national immunisation day in Delhi when three of us administered the oral polio vaccine (OPV) to 550 children in one morning, two drops at a cost of 50p per child. Across India that day, 68 million children were immunised.

Since 2007, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has donated more than £250m to Rotary, and in return Rotary, through its PolioPlus programme, agreed to raise £125m in matching funds, a target achieved last month.

As a result of this long-term immunisation the number of polio cases has dropped by more than 99 per cent since 1988, from about 350,000 cases annually in 125 endemic countries to fewer than 650 in 2011 in only four countries: Afghanistan, India, Nigeria, and Pakistan.

On January 13, India marked a full calendar year without a single case, a staggering achievement in a developing country of more than a billion people.

But there is no room for complacency: we can’t stop immunising until our entire world is certified as polio free.