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India is Now a Polio-Free Nation

Update Date: Jan 14, 2014 01:50 PM EST

After three years without a polio case, the World Health Organization (WHO) has officially declared India a polio-free country. This milestone is a huge step toward eradicating polio from the world.

"This was the one that everyone said could never be done," stated WHO's Dr. Bruce Aylward, reported by CBC News.

Polio is a viral infection that attacks the nerves and leads to partial or full paralysis. Even though there is currently no cure for the disease, vaccines have been successfully keeping the disease at bay. However, getting access to these safe and effective vaccines could be extremely difficult for poorer nations.

For several years, experts were unsure whether or not polio could be eradicated in India. Due to the poor health and sanitary conditions within the nation, stopping polio from transmitting appeared to be an almost impossible feat. However, despite what the critics said, the country has finally succeeded, leaving only three nations to follow suit.

"It was a very difficult push and I think a lot of people back in those days thought: 'We're never going to do it,"' said Dr. Jay Wenger, head of the polio program at the Gates Foundation. "But the fact that India pulled together and galvanized the entire country, really from the government on down, to over two million people every NID [National Immunization Day] that used to go out and vaccinate kids across the country, that huge push really succeeded. And I think that the fact that it did really was proof of principle that we can eradicate polio from the world, if we can do it in a place like India."

UNICEF's Goodwill Ambassador for Polio Eradication, Amitabh Bachchan, added according to The Economics Times, "As the brand ambassador for the United Nations in the fight for polio eradication, I'm very happy and proud that India has been declared a polio-free country. I wish to applaud the efforts of the various volunteers and medical workers who have persevered tirelessly and charitably to enable India to be eradicated of the disease."

The three other countries where polio is still at large are Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria. Two other countries, Syria and Somalia, are at risk of polio returning due to wartime. According to the officials, the goal is to make the world polio-free by 2018.

India's status as a polio-free nation will be formalized in March 2014 when the WHO's South-East Asia Region operation (SEARO) will meet. SEARO will review three years of data that were compiled since the last ever polio case in India occurred on Jan.11 2011.

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