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Keeping India polio free

Marking World Polio Day on 24 October, 20 million doses of Inactivated Polio Vaccine ShanIPVTM have been delivered to the Indian government by Sanofi Pasteur.

(Image credit and copyright: Jean-Marc Giboux)
Polio immunization rally at the Kranti Vidhaya Mandir school in the Bangla-Bazar area of Lucknow, organized by Rotary clubs of Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh.

These vaccinations were provided to the government via Sanofi’s affiliated company, Hyderabad-based Shantha Biotechnics. The vaccine is notable as the only inactivated vaccine currently being produced domestically.

The vaccine is in  widespread use, with Jean-Pierre Baylet, Country Head, Sanofi Pasteur (South Asia) saying that every second baby in India is being vaccinated with either Sanofi Pasteur standalone IPV or a combination vaccine made by the company. .  Since 2015, Sanofi and India have enjoyed a close partnership, maintaining sustained efforts to ensure India remains free of the disease.

As of March 27, 2014, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared India polio-free. The country has remained free of the disease ever since thanks to sustained vaccination campaigns.

There have been sustained government attempts at polio elimination. In 2002 when 1,556 cases of polio emerged in India, the government attempted a media campaign to increase vaccination coverage. The resurgence was significant due to the previous state of decline of polio prevalence in India. In 2001 only 268 cases were reported, with these limited to two states. It was noted at the time that despite availability of vaccines, many rural mothers were not approaching the vaccination camps with their children, this may have contributed to a low immunisation rate in some communities and a resultant resurgence of cases of polio.

A new eradication campaign began. To aid in the efforts, Indian actor Amitabh Bachchan became the brand ambassador, increasing the publicity the campaign received. The efforts of the actor were later acknowledged by Bill Gates as greatly assisting efforts to eliminate polio in India.

The Polio Eradication Campaign has since seen widespread praise as an example of a well thought out, and well implemented healthcare campaign. Amongst the factors influencing the success of the campaign, the foremost was cooperation of individuals, organisations and government on numerous levels.

The Government worked with UNICEF, the WHO, the rural health workers like the ASHAs, as well as local leaders and religious elders in rural communities. Publicity was vital, national media campaigns involving celebrities were utilised, though more local efforts were also widespread. Immunisation drives were located at highly public places such as schools, railway stations and religious buildings.

Grassroots campaigns such as the polio drive show that with sustained effort, India is capable of eliminating public health threats. Similar tactics may be used to great effect with other illnesses that continue to plague India, particularly within rural areas where healthcare is often severely limited.


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