And now for some good news. In a cautiously optimistic declaration of victory, and despite the best efforts of anti-immunization groups, it appears that the World Health Organization (WHO) is set to declare India free of polio.
India Manages to Free Itself of Polio (WSJ.com):
The World Health Organization plans to announce on Monday that India has officially eliminated polio, one of the biggest public-health achievements of recent times, and one that could set the stage for stamping out the ancient scourge globally.
Public-health officials have been counting the days to the three-year anniversary of India’s last recorded case, which allows the WHO to certify it as polio free.
This is a massive accomplishment, given the societal and religious resistance, as well as other obstacles faced by a vaccination plan largely executed by volunteers to ensure millions of children are immunized. The Journal quotes Bill Gates, who commented that “India was by far the hardest place in the world to get rid of polio,” adding, “It’s quite phenomenal that they did it.”
However, although it has been three years since the last reported case, the legacy of the disease leaves many who still live with the crippling aftermath of the disease.
The Independent relates the story of Amit, who is one such victim of polio’s legacy:
He says he was about three or four when he found suddenly that he was unable to sit up straight on a family trip and he toppled off his mother’s lap while travelling on a bus.
“When we reached home, I still could not sit properly. Every time I would try to sit, I would keep tipping over and that’s when my mother thought I’ve got polio,” he told AFP in between serving customers.
“My parents never took me to a doctor, they took me to a temple instead, offered prayers and sought blessings from a priest for a cure so that I could walk properly.”
The priest’s prophecy that he would be cured of his problems by the age of 20 gave false hope. The contagious virus, once it attacks the nervous system, wreaks irreversible damage.
Estimates for the number of survivors left crippled in the country vary significantly.
While we celebrate this success, we need to remain vigilant against complacency, which can still lead to future outbreaks.
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- India Celebrates Polio Success, but Sad Legacy Remains