From registering half of the global polio cases to becoming polio-free, here’s a look at India’s long journey.
World Polio Day is observed on October 24 every year to commemorate Jonas Salk, the person behind developing the polio vaccine and to salute the efforts of frontline workers in polio-hit countries. Polio is an infectious disease that affects children under the age of five causing permanent paralysis in the legs.
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Since 2014, India calls itself a polio-free nation, but it wasn’t an easy road for the country to achieve the feat. Here is a look at the long-drawn journey of India to eradicate infectious and dangerous disease.
The first fight against the polio virus began two years after independence when the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) launched a Polio Research Unit in Mumbai in 1949. The first doses of the Oral Polio Vaccine (OPV) were administered by Mumbai's city corporation in 1965, and in 1979, India adopted the WHO's Expanded Programme of Immunisation against the three strains of polio.
As per a report by Logical India, out of the 3,50,000 polio cases globally, half of the cases came from India in 1979. Till the 1990s, polio became a hyper-endemic in the country and the combat this, the government launched the Universal Immunisation Programme which covered all the districts of India.
The flagship 'Pulse Polio' programme was started in 1995 with the ambitious goal of eradicating polio. However, the problem was not the supply of vaccines but the reluctance of mothers in bringing their children to the polio vaccination camps. For this, the campaign with the iconic tagline 'Do Boond Zindagi Ke' was launched to raise awareness about polio immunisation.
Do Boond Zindagi Ke
The ‘Do Boond Zindagi Ke' campaign resonates in every Indian's head with the image of Amitabh Bachchan. What the campaign did for eradicating polio from India was a feat no other celebrity campaign has ever achieved in the medical realm.
Since there was reluctance in rural mothers to walk up to the vaccination camps set up by the government, Bachchan was suggested by ad guru Piyush Pandey to speak sternly, according to a report by The Hindu.
Soon after the advertisement was aired, mothers started showing up at Pulse Polio camps in all of rural India. When they were asked what made them come to the camps, most of them said that they thought Amitabh ji had become angry, and they didn't want to anger him further, the report said.
The initiative later roped in popular figures like Sachin Tendulkar, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan and Jaya Bachchan among others to take the campaign further where more people are made aware of polio immunization.
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A senior research fellow from Doon University named Santosh Kumar Gautam wrote a paper on the impact of the media on the Pulse Polio Programme. His report stated that advertisements in newspapers, television, radio, hoardings, etc. played an integral part and it suggested that 96 percent of the people came to the polio booth after seeing the ads.
As per the National Health Portal, around 172 million children were given the OPV on each National Immunisation Day (NID) and door-to-door immunisation played an important role. To date, over I50 million children are vaccinated every year on National Immunisation Day.
The very last polio case was reported in West Bengal on January 13, 2011. Three years after that, India was declared polio-free by the WHO on March 27, 2014.
(Edited by : Sudarsanan Mani)