India has officially been struck off the list of polio-endemic countries by the World Health Organization (WHO), having gone more than one year without reporting any cases of wild poliovirus. India’s success leaves only three countries in the world considered polio-endemic – meaning they have never stopped indigenous wild poliovirus transmission – Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan.
The announcement was celebrated across India as arguably its greatest public health achievement. As recently as 2009, India accounted for nearly half of all cases of polio around the world, and was long considered one of the most difficult places in the world to eradicate the crippling disease.
A woman health worker administers an oral polio vaccine to a toddler, while another worker marks his finger to indicate that he has been immunized, in Pakbara Town in Uttar Pradesh State.
Polio is a highly infectious viral disease that attacks the nervous system. Children under five years of age are the most vulnerable, but timely immunization can prevent infection. One out of every 200-400 children infected will suffer from paralysis and even death.
In 1998, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), spearheaded by UNICEF, the World Health Organization, Rotary International and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was created to ensure every child, even the most remote regions, was reached and immunized against this potentially fatal disease.
In its 24 years in operation, GPEI has reached over 2.5 billion children with vaccines in over 200 countries with the help of over 20 million volunteers.
Learn more about the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.