India Celebrates 3 Years Without Polio

By Esha Chhabra
Bikas Das/AP

On January 13, India completed three years without a new case of polio. Six days later, the country conducted the first of two annual National Immunization Days. After 29 years of slogging away at this campaign, health workers were rejoicing this time when Immunization Day arrived. For the partners in polio—Rotary International, UNICEF, the World Health Organization, and the Centers for Disease Control—polio's end in India is the start of a new effort to push for routine immunizations throughout the country. Successfully eradicating polio can translate into better care overall.

Dr. Sunil Bahl, technical advisor to the National Polio Surveillance Project with WHO, refers to the polio program as the "gold standard in microplanning," which will now serve as a blueprint for other immunization campaigns. The polio program in India built the meticulous infrastructure necessary for vaccinations. Now it's being applied to measles, rubella, hepatitis, and tuberculosis.


On January 18th, health workers rode through the main streets of Aligarh in Uttar Pradesh, informing residents of the upcoming immunization round.

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Children adorn communication tools. UNICEF, in charge of the polio program's marketing, created masks, visors, whistles, and toys. While fun, the toys are also a tactic to spread the word about the polio campaign.

Copyright Esha Chhabra
 
Copyright Esha Chhabra

The bivalent vaccine, which hits at two strains of polio (P1 and P3), continues to be deployed through an oral vaccine.

Copyright Esha Chhabra
 
Copyright Esha Chhabra

Female health workers continue to serve as the backbone of the campaign.

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Health workers encourage families to keep their immunization cards in a safe place, i.e. next to their ration cards. Still, that proves to be difficult as families see little value in the cards.

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Markings are made to last till the next vaccination round; the inked pinky indicates that a child has been vaccinated for polio.

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Health workers keep track of the number of children vaccinated within a neighborhood. The paper-pencil model is later transferred to a digital database as WHO conducts intensive monitoring, surveillance, and data collection to identify gaps in the vaccination rounds. 

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"Influencers" or local religious leaders have been incorporated in the polio campaign, given that their voice is respected in the community.

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While no new cases of polio have been detected, those who contracted the disease earlier are now aging, and still struggling. Usha is the last reported case of the P2 strain of the polio virus in the world. She contracted the disease in 1999; now she is 15 years of age. She has had one polio-corrective surgery but still relies on a three-wheeler to go to school.

Copyright Esha Chhabra
 
Copyright Esha Chhabra

 

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/01/india-celebrates-3-years-without-polio/283257/