The World Health Organisation (WHO)'s south-east Asia regional ceritification commission for polio eradication officially declared the region polio free on Thursday, three years after the last case of wild polio virus was reported from India.
In the certification event, held at WHO-SER office in New Delhi, certificates were handed over to chairpersons of national certification committes for polio erdiction and health ministers of member states of the region.
"The committee concluded that the wild polio virus transmission has been interrupted in the SEA region and it officially declared it free from wild polio virus," stated Dr Supamit Chunsuttiwat, committee representative.
Dr Poonal Khetrapal Singh, WHO-SER regional director, while appreciating the efforts of the 11 countries of this region, said, "The polio threat is not over truly until the wild polio virus is eradicated globally. We have to keep the momentum going."
On February 24, 2012, WHO had removed India from the list of countries with active endemic wild polio virus transmission as the last polio case in the country was reported from Howrah district of West Bengal on January 13, 2011.
Calling it an incredible public health feat, union health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad said, "In 2009, when I took over as the health minister of India, the country accounted for maximum polio cases in the world. In less than two years we amazed the whole world by bringing the number to zero and have managed to sustain it for more than three years."
A country is declared polio-free if no case is reported for three consecutive years, and a region is declared polio-free after none of the countries under it has reported a case.
Just two decades ago, the disease used to cripple more than 50,000 children in the country every year.
In 2009, India had half the number of polio cases in the world. By 2011, in less than two years, India brought polio infections to zero level.
However, experts have pointed out that despite India's victory over polio, the threat of re-infection loomed large because of cases still being reported from its neighbouring countries.
Of the 37 polio cases reported in 2014, 29 were in Pakistan and three in Afghanistan.
With effect from March 1, India has made polio vaccination mandatory for people traveling to or coming from seven polio-endemic countries including Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria. Polio drops have to be taken four weeks before travel.
Also, countries are preparing for introduction of inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) in routine immunisation as part of the eventual phasing out of oral polio vaccines (OPV).
More than 120 countries currently use only OPV. These countries will introduce a dose of IPV by the end of 2015 as part of their commitment to the global polio endgame plan which aims to ensure a polio-free world by 2018.