Polio-free India: It seemed impossible until it was done

Dr Hamid Jafari, Director of Polio for the WHO’s Eastern Mediterranean Region, reflects on his time eradicating polio in India and what lessons we can take from this to address the final challenges for achieving eradication in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Martha Dodray is a health worker in the Kosi River Basin area of Bihar. In order to protect all children against polio, Martha has walked, waded, boated, and rode on motorcycles to reach the communities which are spread throughout the area. The region was one of the last to have polio transmission in India, which was certified polio-free in 2014. Kosi River Basin area near Darbhanga, Bihar State, India. November 2017.

India’s journey from the world’s epicentre of a highly infectious viral disease to turning polio-free was like walking on eggshells: Every step we took mattered.

On 13 January 2023, India completes 12 polio-free years – a remarkable achievement that was made as a result of consistent, determined efforts and genuine commitment at all levels.

I spent close to six enriching years of my life serving as the project manager of the National Polio Surveillance Project (NPSP) for WHO India. My work entailed providing technical assistance and strategic guidance to the national programme. I was also in charge of poliovirus surveillance, monitoring mass vaccination campaigns, crafting corrective measures and strategies, and working closely with government counterparts at all levels to ensure every child was vaccinated enough times to build their immunity. We delivered around 1 billion doses of polio vaccine to 172 million children each year over the course of four years leading up to the last case. And many more in the years after.

Taking a step back to reflect on this journey, there were several factors contributing to the monumental success of ending polio in India. The first fundamental factor was government commitment that consistently translated into diligent administrative action at the operational level. Even the district administrators were fully aligned with and committed to taking corrective measures based on evidence: accepting programmatic gaps and challenges and then committing to addressing them urgently.

Read more on the EMRO website.


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