By Dr. Mirta Roses Periago, NTD Special Envoy
Monday marked the three-year anniversary of the last reported polio case in India — a landmark achievement for a country that reported the highest number of polio cases in the world in 2009. A formal declaration of India as polio-free is expected later this year by the World Health Organization (WHO).
According to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, India was once thought to be the most difficult country in which to achieve polio eradication. Today, 71 percent of children in India have received the polio vaccine, and India has become one of the world’s largest donors to global polio eradication as reported by Time magazine.
India’s successful polio eradication program illustrates the leadership role that India can take in the global effort to control and eliminate neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). Similar to polio eradication programs, successful NTD control and elimination programs rely on well-organized and large-scale mass drug administration and surveillance activities. India’s national lymphatic filariasis elimination program reaches more than 300 million people each year, making it the world’s largest NTD program. India has a long history of ending the suffering caused by many communicable diseases, including smallpox, guinea worm and yaws. These remarkable achievements have been possible because of the concerted efforts and commitment of leaders in the Indian government and across civil society.
Despite these successes, India needs to do much more to achieve national and global NTD control and elimination goals. India accounts for 35 percent of the global burden of all NTDs, and currently less than half of the population living at risk for these diseases is being reached by mass drug administration programs. India must reinforce its commitment to eliminate NTDs like lymphatic filariasis, trachoma, kala azar and leprosy, and ensure that the necessary resources and capacity exist to scale-up and sustain operations until control and elimination goals are met.
Three years polio-free demonstrates that India has the expertise, capacity and resources to be a world leader in ending the burden of NTDs. There will be human and financial resources freed up from this victory ready to be channeled with renewed enthusiasm and determination to the fight against NTDs. India is a striking demonstration that elimination is possible. By reducing the NTD burden within its borders, India can contribute to a big reduction in the global NTD burden and its example will be an extraordinary push for all the countries still affected. As we celebrate India’s contribution to the global fight against polio, let’s also encourage continued leadership and success on NTDs to reach the World Health Organization 2020 goals.