India polio-free one year on

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The mission for polio vaccinators around the world remains a dangerous, even deadly, one despite today marking the one-year anniversary since the last reported case of polio in India.


Polio is still endemic in three countries, Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan, and massive recent efforts have seen a decline to some 200 global cases reported in 2012.

However, as long as there is a single case, children in all countries remain at risk from polio unless they are regularly vaccinated.

But it’s those countries with epidemic polio that are the biggest challenges to vaccination, with misinformation creating distrust of vaccinators.

In February, a gunman suspected of belonging to a radical Islam sect shot and killed about nine women on a vaccination drive in northern Nigeria.

Clerics there reportedly claimed the vaccines were part of a western plot to sterilise young girls.

Another nine Pakistani health workers were killed last year, in a country that is seeing soaring polio rates due to growing militant attacks, despite historically successful attempts to vaccinate.

UNICEF is the world’s largest distributor of vaccines to the developing world and Australian Rod Curtis is the head of UNICEF’s Polio Eradication Unit in India.

He says polio vaccination programs have not always been welcome there.

“It wasn’t always the case, ten years ago we had vaccination teams having bricks and acid thrown at them,” he said.

“We worked extremely closely with Muslim leaders and religious institutions such as universities who tested the vaccines and put out statements on our behalf that the vaccine is safe and effective.”

But religious opposition is not the only reason why children are not receiving vaccination.

“[In] Northern Nigeria for instance, there are serious issues with the vaccination campaign in the sense that there have been whole villages that have not been on a micro plan – we are starting to institute house-to-house micro planning built on the Indian system.”

Mr Curtis said that with the remaining isolated patches of polio, we are now the “closest we’ve ever been to polio eradication”.

A two-part documentary “Cold Chain Mission”, featuring UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Ewan McGregor starts on tonight on SBS ONE.


The polio program in India today launches its five-day National Immunisation Days program to immunise 172 million children under the age of five against polio.

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