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India declared free of Polio for one year
February 26, 2012 3:46 PM   Subscribe

Recently, the World Health Organisation anounced that India has officially broken the chain of Polio transmission, with no new cases reported in the last year. Following independent checks of the reporting laboratories, Indian Health Minister announced that WHO "has taken India's name off the list of polio endemic countries".

[Autoplaying video of Health Minister's announcement]

Poliomyelitis is an untreatable, highly contagious viral disease causing rapid-onset paralysis which can be permanent or even fatal in many cases. Extensive vaccination campaigns have eradicated it from the developed world, although extremely low vaccination rates in Western countries combined with easier global travel from infected countries make its global eradication a priority for all of us. The WHO Polio Factsheet, PolioEradication.org and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (Previously on Metafilter:Gates Foundation and Polio) are all excellent sources of information.

India will need to maintain its clean transmission record and high standards of surveillance for a further two years before officially being declared free of Polio. If successful, this will reduce the list of countries with endemic infections to just Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan; it will also make this sequence of maps showing Polio's retreat across the globe a little more beautiful.

The push to eradicate Polio in India is particularly impressive, given that in 2009 it had the higest rate of new infections in the world. However, it has not been without its setbacks, largely due to fears spread by religious leaders that the vaccination would cause infertility (e.g. in 2003 and 2006 [NB: Both NYTimes links]). Nigeria and Pakistan have suffered very similar problems, with religious and community leaders claiming that vaccines are a Western plot to sterilise populations or infect them with HIV, leading to mass resistance to and year-long suspension of vaccination programmes. The recent revelation that the CIA's hunt for Bin Laden involved faking a vaccination campaign in Pakistan has probably not helped the situation.

However, it must be noted that these conspiracy theories are against a background of real risk. In 2007, Nigeria, already very skeptical of the WHO's motives, experienced the "nightmare scenario" of an outbreak caused by the vaccine itself, in which the crippled, live virus evolved back to a virulent form, beginning a new wave of infections amongst unvaccinated people and leading to new cases of paralysis.

Let's hope that India's most recent case of Polio, in Rukhsar Khatoon, a little girl living in West Bengal whose disease was identified on 13th February 2011, was also their last.
posted by metaBugs (21 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite

 
Such good news! And metaBugs, jeez, thank you for your really well researched post. I just recently learned about oral polio vaccine causing (on very rare occasions) outbreaks, which was enormously interesting from a science perspective while being ghoulish from a human perspective.
posted by Made of Star Stuff at 4:09 PM on February 26, 2012


This is wonderful!
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 4:18 PM on February 26, 2012


Yay for India and for the progress of health and science!

(Boo to the CIA for giving people a reason to be nervous/suspicious about vaccination!)
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:20 PM on February 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


Fantastic news. There is no reason anybody in the world today should even fear contracting these illnesses.

Go scientists, epidemologists, and all those other badasses!
posted by cmyk at 4:21 PM on February 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Hooray!
posted by magstheaxe at 7:02 PM on February 26, 2012


So said metabugs. Epony-something.

Seriously, this is such a great piece of news that I'd like to take a moment off, do a quick jig[*] and return to my seat. Been a stressful 12 hours for me for a lot of reasons; this is just the kind of good news that makes me happy for the world.
posted by the cydonian at 8:03 PM on February 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wonderful news, wonderful post!
posted by sc114 at 8:04 PM on February 26, 2012


This is incredible! Thank you for the great post and the even better news.
posted by stoneweaver at 8:11 PM on February 26, 2012


Yay! I did a dance. Seriously. Eliminating diseases has to be one of the most awesome and noble things humans can do for humanity.
posted by agentofselection at 8:11 PM on February 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Am I the only ignorant one who thought polio was totally eradicated already? In my mind, it was in the same little cubby with smallpox.
posted by mollymayhem at 8:42 PM on February 26, 2012


That polio eradication map progression is amazing to see. Thanks for posting this.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:36 PM on February 26, 2012


I know the global eradication campaign began in 1988, but the "sequence of maps showing Polio's retreat across the globe" would be a little more beautiful if they had started with a year in which Polio was still endemic in the English-speaking world (ie. 1978 for instance, the last year of endemic transmission in Canada and Australia; the U.S. would record its last case in 1979, the UK in 1982).

It's a shame that, instead, they chose to sequence this in a way that makes the virus look like a tropical/underdevelopment disease (parts of W. Europe excepted).
posted by waterunderground at 9:48 PM on February 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


What fantastic news! What a great post!

I was so shocked that the Chinese student who lived with us one year, @ 10 years younger than I am, limped due to polio. I was in the 1st generation of Americans who got vaccinated, but China didn't have widespread vaccination. My stepdad had post-polio syndrome, cause it's not enough to have a terrifying, life-threatening disease as a young person; it comes back later to bite you again.

My sincere thanks to every single person who contributed to this great news.
posted by theora55 at 10:21 PM on February 26, 2012


This is fantastic for humans and makes me very happy. Thank you for brightening my day, metaBugs and especially to you, India.
posted by chemoboy at 11:17 PM on February 26, 2012


with religious and community leaders claiming that vaccines are a Western plot to sterilise populations or infect them with HIV,

A Western plot to sterilize the popiulation? Do those religious leaders think Indians are stupid?

They should have gone for "vaccines cause autism". That trope works even in 1st world countries.
posted by three blind mice at 11:25 PM on February 26, 2012


Great news. If you've read Philip Roth's Nemesis, you'll see the terror that polio epidemics can cause. My mother caught polio in the 50s and can't lift her arm above her head; it's amazing to me to think that something that was so scary only the generation before me could have been nearly eliminated in the west by the time I was born.

So good to hear that India has got this far, I know it's been a major programme for them for a good few years now. Hurrah for science and medicine.
posted by Infinite Jest at 12:22 AM on February 27, 2012


Wonderful! And a great way to make an engaging FPP out of good news!
posted by Harald74 at 3:20 AM on February 27, 2012


What a wonderful achievement! Especially impressive since nearby Pakistan and Afghanistan actually saw an increase in polio cases in 2011. It takes some effort to prevent the spread by migration. Also, every time I read stuff like this about volunteers doing this basic kind of public health aid work, it brings tears to my eyes -- what heroes!
posted by bluefly at 4:40 AM on February 27, 2012


For me, this stuff is more exciting than the space programmes; real "pinnacle of human achievement" stuff. I find the underlying science compelling, but it's the sheer scale of these projects that I find awe-inspiring: the numbers of lives improved or saved for now and throughout the future, and the levels of international cooperation and trust required. Managing to work together as a species, across nations and cultures, for long enough to eradicate a disease from the entire planet is a phenomenal achievement. We've pulled it off twice so far, for Smallpox (1977) and Rinderpest (2001). Polio was always going to be a more difficult target due to the nature of the virus, and there is still a tough battle ahead. But we're tantalisingly close, and with every step taken towards it my faith in humanity goes up a bit more.

The Wikipedia page on Eradication of infectious diseases makes for some very uplifting reading, if you're in the mood.

Made of star stuff - I just recently learned about oral polio vaccine causing (on very rare occasions) outbreaks, which was enormously interesting from a science perspective while being ghoulish from a human perspective.

Yeah, there's an interesting and important medical ethics debate to be had there. One of the big arguments in favour of using the live* vaccine is that the attenuated virus is shed from vaccinated patients and can go on to infect others; in effect, it's a contagious vaccine. This makes it much easier to cover entire populations, which is essential for eradication attempts, but raises important questions around consent. When you factor in the tiny but real possibility that your contagious vaccine could revert to virulence and start crippling or even killing people who never consented to vaccination... then some serious debates kick off. It's closely analogous to the thought experiment about pushing someone off a bridge to save a trainload of people: it's undoubtedly the correct course "for the greater good", but do we have the authority to make that decision for people?

*er, leaving aside for the moment the debate over whether viruses can be described as "alive". "Viable" is probably a better word.
posted by metaBugs at 5:07 AM on February 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


For me, this stuff is more exciting than the space programmes; real "pinnacle of human achievement" stuff. I find the underlying science compelling, but it's the sheer scale of these projects that I find awe-inspiring:

Yeah. It's easy to see the achievements of the Space Race -- you saw the massive booster fly, you saw the TV from the moon.

This is harder to see -- the victory isn't just that you saved someone from a horrible fate, it's that you put them into a position where they don't need to be saved. Indeed, I think that's why anti-vaccine advocates get traction so quickly. Nobody sees measles or rubella or diphtheria or polio roaring through. Few remember an era where classmates dying was basically a certainty.

The fact that something doesn't happen is harder to understand that the fact that something did happen. Beating smallpox took far longer, and helped far more, than landing on the moon. And yet, we can all look at that moment when the Eagle set down at Tranquility Base and say "that was when it happened. That was when we won."

You have to look harder to see the last case of smallpox in the wild.

posted by eriko at 6:03 AM on February 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


Wonderful FPP! Thanks for an inspiring start to the day. Gratitude to all the people working to make the world better for all humankind.
posted by Sublimity at 7:00 AM on February 27, 2012


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