The last mile to wipe out polio


It has been over three decades since the first World Polio Day (Oct 24) was marked by Rotary and its partners in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI). The day is observed to remember the struggles of polio victims, Rotary’s significant contributions towards polio eradication, and to pave the way for a polio-free world.

India’s journey to become polio-free

Polio eradication in India began on Oct 2, 1994, when the first PulsePolio immunisation programme, targeting one million children up to three, was executed. India accounted for 60 per cent of the global polio cases. Within the next few years, the National Polio Surveillance Project was launched to track and immunise all children. Monovalent and bivalent oral polio vaccines (mOPV and bOPV) were introduced to tackle type 1 or type 3 virus. Through concerted efforts of Rotary and GPEI, WHO declared India polio-free on March 24, 2014. India has not had a single case of wild poliovirus since 2011.

National Immunisation Day was observed twice a year from 1995 to 2017 to mass immunise children, after which it is being conducted once every year. Additionally, multiple rounds of sub-national immunisation day are conducted in high-risk states and areas. The government has also kept high vigilance and teamed up with Continuous Vaccination and Rapid Response teams to respond to any polio outbreak in the country.

The danger still exists

As the world has almost eradicated polio, wild poliovirus in places such as Pakistan and now New York cause concern. Recently, over 27 incidents of wild poliovirus have re-emerged from countries such as Afghanistan (2), Pakistan (19) and Mozambique (6). The detection of poliovirus, and even cases of polio, in places where it hasn’t been found for years proves that eradicating a human disease isn’t easy, especially in the final stages.

Polio anywhere is a threat everywhere. Polio-endemic countries should address this challenge on a priority.

Rotary’s role

RI President Jennifer Jones on Sept 24 announced a $150 million pledge to highlight Rotary’s commitment to eradicate polio globally.

Rotary’s contribution plays a key role in bringing a revolutionary change to the polio landscape. Rotary began its journey to overcome 350,000 polio cases in 125 countries with its first partners, GPEI in 1988, and along with WHO, UNICEF and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it has made several countries including India, Nigeria and the African region, polio-free. The fight to eradicate polio globally continues.

Mahesh Kotbagi
RI Director, 2021–23

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