India Eradicates Polio


Dylan Matthews details the good news:

More than 50 years since Jonas Salk discovered the first successful polio vaccine, the disease persists in developing countries. According to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, 372 cases were reported in 2013, up from 223 in 2012. So it’s encouraging that India — which had 741 cases as recently as 2009 —  appears to have finally eradicated the illness, with the last reported case occurring three years ago.

Bill Gates applauds the diligence of the Indian government:

Five years ago, India was home to nearly half of the world’s new polio cases. At the time, if you asked any health expert, they would have said India would be the last place on earth to end polio.

India’s population density and high birth rate (27 million new children are born each year), combined with poor sanitation, was like a petri dish for polio. But the government of India, with help from the organizations that make up the Global Polio Eradication Initiative including Rotary International launched an all-out effort to stop the disease. The country deployed 2 million vaccinators to reach children who had never before been reached with polio vaccines or any other health services—children who live in flooded regions or hard-to-find rural towns, or are regularly in-transit with their families.

One of the most powerful images I’ve seen during my visits to India is that of parents proudly holding vaccination cards showing that their children were protected from deadly diseases for the first time. And now that these children have been found, health workers can supply them with much more than just polio drops. They can provide other critical health services like measles vaccines, clean water, and information about how to deliver their babies safely and care for them during their first weeks of life.

Keating examines how the disease still hangs on in some parts of the world, a problem the Dish recently highlighted:

Globally, there’s a strong link between polio and political instability. The disease has recently made a comeback in both the Horn of Africa and Syria, where years of brutal fighting have broken down national vaccination campaigns. There’s also a striking contrast between India, where 170 million children are immunized annually as part of a nationwide campaign involving hundreds of thousands of volunteers begun in the 1990s, and neighboring Pakistan, where a similarly aggressive campaign has been hampered by extremist attacks on volunteers. At least a dozen government vaccinators, whose efforts are portrayed by the Taliban as a Western conspiracy, have been killed or wounded in northwest Pakistan, in the past three months. Eighty-three new cases of the disease were reported in the country last year, making it one of only three in the world—along with Afghanistan and Nigeria—where polio remains endemic.

Francie Diep looks ahead:

Should the day come when polio is truly gone from the world, it would be the second vaccine-preventable disease that humans have eradicated. The only precedent is smallpox. The next, [epidemiologist Carol] Pandak thinks, may be measles and rubella. There are a couple of reasons those diseases are promising. Like polio and smallpox, they don’t have any animal carriers, which means no wrangling with microbes lying in wait in monkeys, bats or mosquitoes. There are also safe, effective vaccines for measles and rubella that work in children.