Congratulating India on achieving the milestone of being polio-free for three consecutive years, Pakistan has expressed the desire to benefit from the experience of its eastern neighbour to fight out the vaccine-preventable disease.
India had reported the last polio case on January 13, 2011.
And the landmark victory against polio will lead to its formal elimination from the list of three polio-endemic countries, including Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria.
In a letter sent through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Prime Minister’s Focal Person for Polio Eradication Ayesha Raza Farooq extended the ‘heartiest felicitations’ to Indian Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare Ghulam Nabi Azad and his entire team on their country completing three years without a polio case.
“This is a monumental milestone and represents the fruit of an outstanding effort under your (Indian minister) leadership to defeat a disease that continues to pose a major public health challenges across South Asian Region. The scale of the effort in India and innovative, home grown strategies and locally appropriate solutions employed to meet diverse challenges for driving the polio virus out of its last bastions has set an excellent example for dealing with other public health problems.”
As Pakistan continues to polio facing myriad challenges, the prime minister’s focal person expressed the desire for the country benefiting from the ‘wealth of experience, lessons learnt and knowledge acquired in India’s fight against polio.’ Emphatically insisting that it’s definitely not the destiny of the South Asian region to fall prey to a disease (polio) we can prevent through collective efforts, she wanted Pakistani and Indian authorities to collaborate to fight out the crippling virus.
“Let’s join hands to rid the region and the world of polio by working in close collaboration and a spirit of partnership in the name of our children,” Ayesha Raza Farooq told Ghulam Nabi Azad in the letter.
Formal confirmation of India’s polio-free status will come in late March when the certification commission for the World Health Organisation’s South-East Asia Region operation, SEARO, will meet to review 36 months worth of laboratory data for India dating from the last case.
India was once considered the most challenging place to end polio with 741 polio cases being reported there in 2009, more than any country in the world.
However, the use of bivalent, a new oral vaccine, was instrumental in turning all this around. Besides, mobilisation of millions of health workers and local communities for nationwide vaccination campaigns also contributed a lot to the country’s successful fight against polio.
According to David Gold, principal of Global Health Strategies, India’s successful fight against polio could be inspirational for the three polio endemic countries.
“India proves that the virus can be eliminated under the most complex circumstances, providing inspiration and technical guidance for eliminating polio in the three endemic countries i.e. Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria,” he said.
David Gold said lessons from India’s success informed the development of the new Strategic Plan to end polio by 2018 and were already driving progress in the few remaining reservoirs, where polio endured.
He said while India’s anniversary was a significant milestone and proof of what was possible, recent outbreaks in the Middle East and the Horn of Africa — both linked to virus from endemic countries — were proof that as long as polio existed anywhere, it was a threat everywhere.
“We must capitalise on India’s achievement to end polio globally and protect the health of children everywhere for generations to come,” he said.