World Polio Day: What is Polio & How India became Polio-Free?

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World Polio Day is observed across the world on 24 October every year to raise awareness about the polio disease and measures to eradicate it. World Polio Day was started by Rotary International over a decade ago to observe the birth of Jonas Salk, who led the first team to develop a vaccine against poliomyelitis. Rotary and its partners launched the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) in 1988 and by 2013, had successfully reduced polio worldwide by 99%.

What is Polio?

Poliomyelitis (Polio) is a paralyzing and potentially fatal viral contagious disease that still threatens children in some parts of the world.

There are three subtypes of poliovirus PV1, 2 and 3 responsible for causing Polio and any of them is equally capable of infecting the child and hence it is very important to develop immunity against all three types in order to prevent the disease.

Poliovirus is the virus responsible for causing Polio. The virus invades the nervous system and can cause total paralysis even in few hours. The initial symptoms include fever, headache, weakness, vomiting and toughness in neck and limbs.

Though, Poliovirus can affect people of any age but majorly affects children under five. Though Polio is not curable but it can be prevented by vaccines. Unlike most diseases, polio can be eradicated.

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Polio Vaccine:

Polio vaccine is very effective in developing immunity to the body from poliovirus and protection from paralytic polio. Dr. Albert Sabin developed the first Oral Polio Vaccine (OPV) in 1961. Currently, there are two types of polio vaccine namely Oral Polio Vaccine (OPV) and Inactivated Polio Vaccine (IPV).

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Oral polio vaccine (OPV) is given at the age of six weeks, 10 weeks and 14 weeks with booster doses at 16 months and 24 months of age. OPV is further divided into two types called trivalent and divalent. Trivalent contains all the 3 types of poliovirus while divalent contains only two of the three types of poliovirus. As of 2016, the oral polio vaccines are majorly divalent since PV2 poliovirus has been eliminated from across the world.

Inactivated Polio Vaccine (IPV) is an injectable vaccination containing dead viruses and is given at the age of 6 months and 14 months on the upper arm. It consists of the all three serotypes of polio virus. After two doses IPV, and approx. 99% are immune to polio virus following three doses.

Polio vaccine, if given multiple times in proper schedule, almost always protects a child for life against polio. Hence, the strategy to eradicate polio is based on preventing infection by immunizing every child until transmission stops and the world becomes polio-free.

How India a became a Polio-Free Nation?

In India, Polio was a common disease and large number of children suffered from this disease until the government in 1985, launched the Universal Immunization Programme (UIP) to cover all the districts of the country in order to eradicate the disease. Later, in 1995 following the footsteps of World Health Organization (WHO)’s Global Polio Eradication Initiative India launched its pilot Pulse Polio immunization program with Universal Immunization Program that aimed at 100% coverage and eradication of Polio. Bollywood Megastar Amitabh Bachchan volunteered with the campaign in all media platforms like TV, print and radio spots to educate people about Polio and urged them to vaccinate their children in time. Earlier, Government of India (GOI) had also launched many programmes such as “Do Boond Zindagi Kay” and “Polio Sunday” to deal with the serious problem.

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According to Global Polio Eradication Initiative reports, India constituted over 60% of total global polio cases as recently as 2009 and keeping in mind the vast population of India but with its sheer dedication, commitment and simply doubling down on immunization activities, India was able to fight the disease successfully.

On March 24, 2014 India was officially declared polio-free, along with the rest of the South-East Asia Region by the World Health Organization (WHO). The last cases of polio in India were reported in West Bengal and Gujarat on 13 January 2011. And now we are celebrating a polio-free World Polio Day 2019.

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