NEW DELHI: The World Health Organisation declared India free of the crippling polio virus on Thursday, making the country’s almost two-decade-long, multi-billion-dollar effort one of the biggest public health achievements in recent times.
India’s last case of the wild polio virus was detected in January 2011 in a two-year-old girl in the state of West Bengal. Three years without any new cases means a country can be certified as polio-free. Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria are the only countries in the world left where the virus remains endemic, largely due to violent conflicts, weak health systems and poor sanitation.
“This ceremony ... marks one of the biggest public health achievements,” Poonam Khetrapal Singh, the WHO’s Southeast Asia director, told diplomats and health officials at the event.
“It is a day that all countries fought hard for, and a day when all stakeholders come together to celebrate the victory of mankind over a dreaded disease that, for centuries, has killed and disabled legions.”
Until the 1950s, polio crippled thousands every year in rich countries. It attacks the nervous system and can cause irreversible paralysis within hours of infection.
The highly contagious virus often spreads in areas with poor sanitation and children under five are the most vulnerable.
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