When UNICEF on 27 July in New Delhi celebrated a “Polio Free India” with Goodwill Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan, quite fittingly, tribute was paid to the vaccinators and mobilisers who worked tirelessly in the diverse and remote parts of the country, ensuring that every child under five years old was immunised.
Amitabh Bachchan as the UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador for Polio, undoubtedly played a critical role in mobilising mass support for India’s polio immunisation campaign, but it is those in the field who made possible India’s feat of being polio-free.
Each year, around 2.3 million lakh vaccinators, led by 155,000 supervisors, visit 209 million households to administer the polio vaccine during campaigns. Nearly a billion doses of oral polio vaccine are consumed during the campaigns annually.
Over 1000 men and women from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar’s ‘Social Mobilization Network’ (SmNet) came together to celebrate the event presided by the Minister of Health & Family Welfare, Dr. Harsh Vardhan, UNICEF India Representative , Mr Louis Georges Arsenault and superstar Amitabh Bacchan.
Addressing the gathering, Mr Bachchan said: “India’s present polio-free status is a matter of great pride. I feel privileged to have been part of the anti-polio campaign. I am delighted that our efforts in spreading awareness and mobilising communities for polio vaccination have been successful. But this fight was not an easy one. We must thank the thousands of UNICEF supported SMNet Mobilizers and Government vaccinators who have made this victory possible.”
Dr Harsh Vardhan said: ”India’s feat of being polio-free for three years and receiving WHO certification is indeed a victory for the millions of health and community workers who broke many a barrier to reach out to the unreached children. They are the most powerful voice of the polio eradication movement. They allayed fears and addressed misconceptions. They built partnerships with the local community and religious leadership. It is because of their efforts − of going door to door, administering polio vaccine to children and educating people about the importance of the polio vaccine, that India could achieve this success.”
“India’s success is a cause for celebration – but not complacency,” said Mr Louis-Georges Arsenault. He added, “India is polio free but the risk of polio persists.” Until the disease is eradicated globally, “we need to continue to protect children against the virus and remain in a state of preparedness to respond to any case of poliovirus importation as an emergency,” he pointed out.
Commending Mr Bachchan’s unstinted support towards the cause, he said, “Mr Bachchan has been the face of polio’s mass media campaigns for over a decade. His one-liner “do boond zindagi ki” (two drops of polio vaccine) has been one of the most effective messages in the fight against polio. It had been critical in persuading parents and care-givers to give their children polio vaccines.”
India was certified polio-free in February 2014 − a feat it accomplished overcoming several challenges including population density, high rates of migration, poor sanitation, high birth rates, and low rates of routine immunisation in the highest risk states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.