India celebrates its status as Polio-Free nation, renews resolve

Pulse polio programme
Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan while speaking on 25 years of Pulse Polio Programme

New Delhi (NVI): India is celebrating its status as Polio Free country this month with a renewed resolve of no let-up in the fight against the disease as it commemorates 25 years of its sustained Anti-Polio drive.

Come October 31 and the country’s Silver Jubilee celebrations of its globally acclaimed Pulse Polio Programme will culminate in a distinguished gathering of about  900 delegates, who will discuss the way forward to sustain this achievement.

“Let us renew our pledge to reach every single child to save them from Vaccine-Preventable Disease (VPDs)” said Health Minister Harsh Vardhan at the ceremony to mark 25 years of Pulse Polio Programme here on October 22.

Describing India’s against Polio as a long and momentous journey, Vardhan said, “In 2014, India was declared Polio free. It all began with a single thought that if ballot papers can reach each person, two life-saving drops of vaccination too can reach every child.

The success of administering polio vaccination drops to 12 lakh children through 4000 ‘polio kendras’ on 2nd October 1994 in the city of Delhi, led to a countrywide movement and Pulse Polio Program was taken countrywide a year later in 1995.

He thanked all the stakeholders who contributed to this campaign, stating, “India achieved this monumental triumph with the strong government leadership, hard work and dedication of frontline health workforce, community and religious influencers, health officials, state governments, civil society organizations, professional bodies like IMA, IAP etc., partners such as WHO, Rotary and UNICEF and most importantly the support of our countrymen.”

“The best practices and the systems established by the Pulse Polio programme have benefitted other health programs, viz. the community mobilization, logistics management, reaching the last mile or setting up a surveillance system, he said adding, “The learnings from Pulse Polio programme have helped implementation of other immunization programmes i.e. the Mission Indradhanush (MI) and the Intensified Mission Indradhanush (IMI).”

He further said, “PM Modi recognized the MI as a flagship programme and included it in the multi-ministerial programme like the Gram Swaraj Abhiyan (GSA) as well as the Extended Gram Swaraj Abhiyan (EGSA) and we were able to reach and immunize crores of children across the country.”

He also mentioned,  “Since the centre has taken charge in 2014, the Universal Immunization (UIP) basket of vaccines has expanded to cover 12 Vaccine-Preventable Diseases (VPDs) from the earlier 7.  As of today, Mission Indradhanush and related drives have successfully reached out to and vaccinated 3.39 crore children and 87.2 Lakh pregnant women in India. The hallmark of these drives has been strong political commitment, strong convergence with 12 other ministries like MWCD, MoHRD, Youth & Sports Ministry etc.”

He discussed the agenda of the 31st October 2019 Silver Jubilee event, stating, “It will a day to celebrate with the stalwarts of the Polio Campaign and mark India’s remarkable successes in child healthcare and immunization.”

“It will be a day to renew the pledge and energize all stakeholders to continue to work together to ensure 100% coverage with all lifesaving and absolutely free of cost vaccines available under Universal Immunization Programme (UIP).”

He informed that Silver Jubilee celebrations of Pulse Polio programme which is going to be held on October 31 at Dr Ambedkar International Center, Janpath will last for 3 hours and will have a film on journey of Pulse Polio.

“It will also have a panel discussion featuring the prominent personnel of that era. The sixteen districts who achieved 90% full immunization coverage during IMI in 2017-18 will also be rewarded at the event,” he added.

Meanwhile, the Secretary of Health Ministry Preeti Sudan said, “We are trying to simulate the Polio programme passion of Minister or the Routine Immunization (RI) Programme. Convergent action is our main strategy with emphasis on involving the parent and families of children, to ensure that no child gets affected by VPDs.”

History of Pulse Polio Programme in India

In 1988, the World Health Assembly (WHA) passed a resolution to launch the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI). The Delhi government under the leadership of Harsh Vardhan piloted the first-ever large scale supplementary immunization campaign with OPV in 1994, introducing the “Pulse Polio” immunization campaign with the iconic ‘Do Boond Zindagi Ki’ tagline on Mahatma Gandhi’s birth anniversary on October 2, 1994.

The campaign in Delhi reached nearly one million children up to the age of three years with two doses of OPV being administered on 02 October and 04 December through exclusive booth-based strategy.

This strategy was later adopted and implemented by the government as Pulse Polio Campaigns. India’s attainment of polio-free status in 2014, was coined by the World Health Organization as “one of the most significant achievements in public health,” and marked not just India but the entire South-East Asia Region being declared polio-free.

–PS