World Polio Day is celebrated each year on October 24. Initiated by Rotary International, the day is to commemorate Jonas Salk, the person behind developing the polio vaccine. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Poliomyelitis is an infectious disease that affects children under the age of 5. It is known for causing paralysis in the legs, that is permanent in nature. This is contracted by children living in areas that have an abysmal sanitation system and are unhygienic.
Over the years, the world has come together to eradicate this disease. The WHO adopted a resolution asking for polio's worldwide eradication in 1988 that launched the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. Several countries have worked on a national level and used methods to get rid of the disease once in for all, that has brought about a 99% dip in polio cases around the world.
Since 2014, India calls itself a polio-free nation. However, it was not an easy road for the country to achieve this feat. Today, let us take a look at the long-drawn the country went on to eradicate the infectious and dangerous disease.
Polio Immunisation Programme
Our country's fight against this virus began two years after independence. The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) launched a Polio Research Unit in Mumbai in 1949, the second one being in Christian Medical College (CMC) Vellore in Tamil Nadu. The first few doses of the Oral Polio Vaccine (OPV) were administered by Mumbai's city corporation in 1965. In 1979, India adopted WHO's Expanded Programme of Immunisation against the three strains of polio involving the usage of the same oral vaccine.
However, the load of cases was still high. Out of the 3,50,000 Polio cases globally, half of it came from India itself. Till the 1990s, Polio became a hyper-endemic in the country that became a major cause for concern. Despite this, the country did not take the its foot off the pedal. The government launched the Universal Immunisation Programme to cover all the districts around India.
'Do Boondh Zindagi Ke'
The 'Pulse Polio' programme started in 1995 with an aim towards 100% eradication of the disease. With the tagline 'do boondh zindagi ke', it raised awareness about polio as well as the importance of the polio vaccine that needs to be administered thrice in order to be completely immunised. Children who came under the 0-5 age range were given the polio during national and subnational rounds. The initiative also roped in popular figures like Amitabh Bachchan, Sachin Tendulkar, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Shahrukh Khan, Jaya Bachchan, etc, to take to another level where more people are made aware about this.
Incredible Success Story
For a country that amounted for half of the worldwide polio cases, this was a fight where they never gave up. According to National Health Portal, around 172 million children were given the OPV on each National Immunisation Day (NID). Door-to-door immunisation also played an important role as many healthcare workers reached several homes to administer the vaccine. Not only that, the celebrity involvement in the campaign paid dividends A senior research fellow from Doon University named Santosh Kumar Gautam wrote a paper on the impact of the media in the Pulse Polio Programme, stating that advertisements on newspapers, television, radio, hoardings, etc. played an integral part. In fact, it also suggested that 96% of the people came to the polio booth after seeing their favourite celebrities talking about it on several platforms at that time.
The very last polio case was reported in West Bengal's Howrah district on January 13, 2011. From then on, it took three years for the country to become polio free when the WHO declared India the same on March 27, 2014.