War on polio not yet won

On February 24, 2012, India was cut off the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) list and was declared and certified polio-free on March 27, 2014. As per the WHO’s guidelines, a country needs to record no wild indigenous polio case for at least three years to get the polio-free certificate. Poliomyelitis is now history, a forgotten trepidation in India.

As we Indians and the World Health Organisation’s South East Asia region’s people are commemorating the fourth anniversary, we ought to be grateful to the WHO, the UNICEF, the Rotary International, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, health departments for their strong operational support to this collective effort to ward-off polio and continuing the excellent work they began.

The real heroes are the polio victims who never gave up their quest for equality and quality living. The eradication of polio, the ‘epitome of an epidemic,’ is a laudable achievement for India. The last polio victim of India was Ruksa Khatun from Howrah, West Bengal, attacked by polio when she was three years old on January 13, 2011.

Besides the polio victims who did not let the disease handicap their lives, there was an army of unsung heroes, who have toiled day and night to eradicate this malady. Over 20 lakh volunteers, health workers and NGOs co-ordinated, covered nooks and corners of the country from the north to south, spread through the east and west of India and travelled across mountains and valleys, deserts and rivers, risking their lives, to vaccinate children against this deadly virus. Their unmatched contribution to polio eradication in the region has placed them in the highest order of human life.

Talking of existence or creation, which remains vague and ambiguous, if Hominids invented fire and Homo sapiens invented the wheel, Dr Jonas Salk, the US scientist gave the world-shattering news of the invention of a vaccine to fight against polio in 1955. In 1961, when Dr Albert Sabin announced his epoch-making invention, the oral polio vaccine to assuage polio, that changed the history of medicine, saving thousands of lives till now.  History will remember the terminators of poliovirus, Dr Salk and Dr Sabin for having touched many lives.

However much Botox, face lifts and tummy tucks may trend all over the world and be helping the rich, the elite and the entitled, the fact remains undeterred, that those “miraculous two drops” can work wonders, on the rich and the poor alike. Poliovirus bedevilled the entire world for centuries. And immunisation has been the only significant preventive measure. 

The seed to root out poliovirus was sown by US President Franklin D Roosevelt, who wasn’t alive to savour the fruits of his labour in the form of the well-being of his ever indebted subjects. President Roosevelt’s initiative, empathy and efforts unfurled hundredfold. For he not only fought the dreaded disease but also bankrolled for the cause. His contribution towards eradication of polio epidemic helped in inventing the first successful vaccine. President Roosevelt, one among polio victims, was also instrumental in founding the nonprofit organisation “March of Dimes.”  

Has India won the war on polio? There has been no single case of polio since January 13, 2011, in the country. Howbeit, we just have eradicated polio in the homeland and not at the border or the neighbouring country. We won the battle, but the war on polio has not been won yet. There are still polio cases in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The threat of import or spreading from polio-endemic countries cannot be ruled out. The other peril is remote chances of getting vaccine-derived polioviruses. The fact the virus is still alive in neighbouring countries is alarming. This could jeopardise the entire effort of eradicating the virus so far.

How it spreads

The virus can be found in the saliva and faeces of polio victims which then spreads through contamination of water and environment and also through contact. It can spread through the air when a polio-affected person coughs or sneezes when he is in the company of other people, or through food if the hands of the person serving the food are contaminated. To avoid this epidemic again, it is important that newborns are vaccinated as per the paediatrician’s instructions. 

Every time there is a polio case reported in the neighbouring countries, we must feel disquieted as this virus can attack our country any time.

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