Stopping polio: Lessons from India

March 29, 2012 BY Kathy Calvin


I’m in India this week with the United Nations Foundation’s Board of Directors – some of the smartest minds I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with – to discuss how we can help the UN solve some of the world’s biggest challenges. As we are in India, polio eradication is an issue that figures prominently in our discussions.
India went from having half of the world’s polio cases in 2009 to becoming free of the disease in January 2012. This is a major milestone that should be celebrated.  The Government and people of India, committed NGO partners collaborating with the Polio Eradication Initiative, and the tremendous work of Rotary International, the United Nations, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation all were part of this effort.  But we must stay focused on the goal of eradicating polio from the planet. After all, a 99 percent reduction is not 100 percent eradication.
Unless polio is eradicated rapidly from the remaining endemic countries – Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan – it will continue to re-infect polio-free countries. Over the past three years, approximately half of all global polio cases occurred in polio-free countries, because of importation from endemic areas.
Failure to eradicate polio now could result in as many as 200,000 new cases every year, within ten years. Success on the other hand will mean that no child will ever again know the pain of being paralyzed for life, and the world will reap financial savings of more than $50 billion through 2035.
How did India accomplish this significant milestone in the fight against polio? Examining India’s accomplishments can help provide key lessons for the other countries trying to do the same. I see these points as being key to India’s achievement:

  • Strong leadership and political will at every level of government
    The government set up an India Expert Advisory Group to help overcome huge hurdles, such as its high birth rate, large population, hard-to-reach migrant communities and resistance to the vaccine in high-risk populations, to stop polio.

  • Financial resources and commitments from the government and public/private organizations
    India is projected to have spent close to $1.5 billion of its own funding to tackle polio by the end of next year, matched by approximately $9 billion in commitments to the global eradication effort by key donors like the U.S. Government, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Rotary International. In this economic climate, dollars are tight, these remarkable investments have demonstrated what a priority this issue really is.

  • Many dedicated, trained health workers and volunteers
    India had 2.3 million volunteers across the country immunizing children from urban centers to rural areas. Vaccinators went to train and bus stations and festivals to reach migrant and highly mobile groups. This army of supporters administered over 900 million doses of oral polio vaccine, reaching an unprecedented 99 percent coverage rate in the two states where polio remained endemic, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, a feat that had not been accomplished anywhere else at this scale. Even India’s famous Bollywood got involved, with key leaders like Amitabh Bachchan motivating the nation to meet its goals.

  • Public-private collaboration
    No one organization can know and do everything. India relied on support from a number of partners including the World Health Organization, UNICEF, and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for technical and planning assistance, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for critical funding and social mobilization support, local community-based organizations, pharmaceutical companies, and many others.  Impressively, nearly 119,000 Rotarians in India chipped in to raise awareness, organize vaccination campaigns, and deliver vaccines as part of Rotary International’s steadfast commitment to ending polio worldwide.

  • Embracing innovation and technology to respond more quickly to outbreaks.
    Laboratory improvements cut the time to diagnose polio in half, and the introduction of genetic sequencing helped pinpoint the origin of the virus.  The introduction of a new bivalent vaccine, starting with trials in India in 2008 and 2009, provided for a higher degree of protection while saving costs.

These are critically important lessons that can resonate for virtually any global public health challenge, from measles elimination to malaria prevention. Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan have never stopped polio transmission, and we owe it to those three countries – and to India – to remain committed, supportive, and engaged in helping them rise up to meet the opportunity of eradication head on.

The partnership that brought together the Government and the people of India, its partners and friends to tackle this disease is a story of tenacity and steadfastness.  We should learn from this example and re-commit ourselves to building awareness and advocating about the value of vaccines around the world, through programs like the UN Foundation's Shot@Life campaign.  It is a way each of us can ensure that more countries can join the list of places free from preventable diseases.  It is a way each of us can help build a better world.


POSTED IN: Campaigns & Initiatives, Global Issues, United Nations


Submitted by George Palamattam on: May 12, 2012 An outstanding accomplishment! A time to celebrate and more importantly to be vigilant. While moving on to a new issue or region, we continue the fight to avoid relapse in India. Congratulations and thanks to all dedicated volunteers and workers.
Submitted by Dr.Tony Thomas on: April 3, 2012 Many more Miles to go, before India to be Polio free..The Public Health System has to be strengthened..
Submitted by Shamiso on: April 3, 2012 Great achievement. God bless all who contributed their time, strength and money to make this happen. To God be the glory for all the work accomplished.
Submitted by Dagang Gang on: April 1, 2012 Go India! Well Done! I'm Nigerian so this hits home. I live and work in one of the States in Nigeria with the highest number of Polio cases. I'm currently campaigning for child survival, a critical component of which requires vaccines. India's success story assures me that a new Nigeria free from Polio is possible. The long battle will be won.
Submitted by Romy Overstreet on: April 1, 2012 it is possible to make a change and a noteworthy one at that! Awesome1
Submitted by Ajay on: March 31, 2012 It is a breathtaking feat. Given the huge population, with most of the impoverished people living in the far flung areas who lack basic necessities and the diverse culture, it is a major accomplishment. Without the volunteers and charitable organizations and of course the determination, this would not have been possible. Congratulations and Thank you to all, who made this achievable.
Submitted by Solomon Manzi on: March 31, 2012 The third world, and especially Africa.. has citizens that truly appreciate the tireless efforts of all stakeholders, collective and individual who go to their beds every night thinking of how to make life more bearable for our people. We thank you eternally!
Submitted by Fred on: March 30, 2012 People in the U.S. are fortunate. I can remember the '40s and '50s when we couldn't go to the movies or the swimming pools in the summer because of polio outbreaks. Thank you, Jonas Salk, Albert Sabin and the Gates'.
Submitted by Stephen on: March 30, 2012 Being a Polio survivor myself, I am tremendously pleased with the work you are accomplishing! None of them will have to experience such a major lifelong ordeal, thanks to you.
Submitted by Hasan on: March 30, 2012 It is indeed great that polio has been eradicated from India. But it would be better if the same happen in neighbouring countries.A child, irrespective of the country or religion it belongs, does have the right to good health, food and shelter and education. Keep your good work going. God Bless You.
Submitted by Abdulrahman Abdu on: March 30, 2012 Let Nigeria,Pakistan and Afganistan take lesson on good practice exhibited by India, showing the possibility of eradicting polio from the globe. Conguratulation Indian child and their future.
Submitted by Majdi Sabahelzain on: March 30, 2012 This is a breakthrough.
Submitted by Nancy Mitchell on: March 29, 2012 What an almost unbelievale success! Bur it is believable and all due to dedication on the part of the Indian governement, its international partners and volunteers within India.Congratulations to all! May this success serve as a model for other issues we face worldwide. Thank you to all the partners!
Submitted by Anonymous on: March 29, 2012 Fantastic achievement. Polio free India is a dream come true.This feat shows nothing is impossible. We can all work towards living in a clean, disease free, war free, beautiful world.
Submitted by Raj Nayanaar on: March 29, 2012 Fantastic achievement. Polio free India. What a feat..... Incomparable.....How can i help in your future endevours?
Submitted by Saraveth on: March 29, 2012 I'm really happy to get this information, support the action. Hope in the near future many many country can get this goal.
Submitted by James on: March 29, 2012 You are a very,very good man.Great work that you do.Keep up the good work.
Submitted by Claudia Shapiro on: March 29, 2012 That's a very impressive accomplishment to achieve in only 3 years! Congratulations to India!
Submitted by dr.w.sutliff on: March 29, 2012 A nice review of this wonderful audacious effort by the partnership of Rotary, the UN (WHO & UNICEF),many many countries, the US Communical Disease Center and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. This is a model of how to make good changes in the world. Five to ten million people have been saved from paralaysis.
Submitted by Mary on: March 29, 2012 Thank you whoever you are for your part in eradicating Polio. May God bless you with good health and a long life.
Submitted by Anonymous on: March 29, 2012 This is so important and so wonderful. Thanks to all who have worked so hard to get this accomplished.
Submitted by satheesan Nair on: March 29, 2012 Good effort to eradicate Polio. I congratulate who ever take initiative for this program.

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