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WHO Formally Declares India a Polio-Free Nation

Update Date: Mar 27, 2014 09:35 AM EDT
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Back in January, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that India was well on its way in becoming a polio-free nation. On Thursday, the agency has formally declared India's polio status as eradicated. India's efforts to get rid of polio, which took almost two-decades and cost billions of dollars, have paid off.

"This ceremony ... marks one of the biggest public health achievements," Dr. Poonam Khetrapal Singh, the WHO's Southeast Asia director, said at the event reported by Reuters. "It is a day that all countries fought hard for, and a day when all stakeholders come together to celebrate the victory of mankind over a dreaded disease that, for centuries, has killed and disabled legions."

According to the statistics, India's last case of polio occurred in a two-year-old girl back in January 2011. The girl was from the state of West Bengal. Without any new cases over the past three years, the South East Asia region is now the fourth region to be added on the polio-free list after the Americas, Western Pacific and Europe regions. Only two remaining regions, the Eastern Mediterranean and Africa, have yet to be declared polio-free.

"This is very significant because before this region was certified polio-free, we had half the world's population polio free," Dr. Singh said according to BBC News. "With the South East Asia region being added we now have 80% of the population polio free. This was a problem the region was struggling with for a long time, but now finally, we are polio free."

Polio is a viral infection that causes partial or full paralysis by attacking nerves. There is currently no cure for the disease. However, vaccines are successful in preventing the disease from spreading. Due to the effectiveness of these vaccines, getting them to poorer nations where polio is still at large is vital.

Polio was a crippling global disease until the 1950s. In 1988, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative was created with the goal of eliminating polio cases. The initiative involved governments and organizations, such as UNICEF, WHO and Rotary International. At that time, polio affected around 350,000 people.

Currently, only three countries, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria, still have cases of polio. In these countries, poor sanitary conditions mixed with a weak health care system and wartime prevent these nations from successfully vaccinating its citizens. WHO's goal is to eradicate polio completely by 2018.

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