Inching towards ending polio

The Final Inch is a documentary funded by Google.org and produced by Vermilion Pictures, chronicling the final stages of the global fight to end polio. A large chunk of the movie was filmed in India, given that the country is the final frontier in the global effort to eradicate polio. There were 496 confirmed cases of polio in 2008 in India, accounting for 35 percent of all cases worldwide.

The documentary profiles the real heroes – the foot soldiers who are mobilized to deliver the doses of polio vaccine to young children.  India’s progress towards eradicating polio also highlights the relentless effort of the Indian government in undertaking the largest vaccination program in the world.

The Final Inch will be screened on HBO in 2009, and you can expect the DVDs to be out soon. In the meantime, enjoy the trailer:

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TC-I Tidbits

Your daily dose of headlines:

  • Health: India continues to have the world’s highest number of polio cases this year, with the disease having crippled more children till April than it did during the same period in 2007. [Source: Times of India]
  • Children: In a unique lobbying effort, more than 100 ex-child laborers knocked on the doors of Members of Parliament as a reminder about the government’s promise on education for all.
  • PPPs: Several major development projects, worth Rs 7,946 Cr, were approved by the Public Private Partnership Appraisal Committee to build infrastructure in 10 states.
  • Agriculture: For the first time, a grain reserve will be set up for emergency situations. The Food Corporation of India will build up a five million ton grain reserve, a move that comes at a time when food shortages and rising prices are a major concern.

The Polio Capital of the World: India

Last year alone, India spent Rs. 1,300 crore on the Polio Eradication Programme, with Rs. 1,042 crore more allocated for this year. Despite these efforts, however, the success of the past few years appears to have been reversed, as the Global Polio Eradication Initiative has placed India on top of the world polio map, with 106 cases diagnosed for this year. Compare that to other “endemic countries” such as Nigeria, Pakistan, and Afghanistan – all of which, together, have reported only 23 cases in the same time period.

With states such as Bihar and Uttar Pradesh leading the way in terms of polio infections, India’s projected year of eradication – 2000 – is well off track. Here are the statistics:

The number of polio cases jumped from 268 in 2001 to 1,600 in 2002. In February 2003, India launched the largest ever mass immunisation campaign against polio, targeting 165 million children.

But even in that year there were 225 cases, though in 2004 there was a significant drop to 136 cases. India recorded 864 polio cases in 2007, compared to 676 cases the previous year.

Of course, we must keep in mind that compared to 1995, when around 50,000 polio cases were diagnosed, the 106 cases diagnosed to date are a significant improvement. But the question remains – despite a concerted effort to eradicate the disease, why the repeated failure? WHO and UNICEF officials point to the fact that of the 106 polio cases diagnosed, only 1 was P1 (the most contagious and virulent strain), whereas the remainder were P3 (the least contagious and virulent strain). UNICEF has also found that community members still lack confidence in the vaccine, citing it as a ‘birth control’ device, or distrusting its effects altogether. In response, UNICEF has started recruiting community and religious leaders in addition to widespread “confidence building” campaigns.

The next step for India is to focus on the Type 3 strain, specifically in the regions of Bihar and UP. Currently, the government plans to “advance the pulse polio rounds in UP, Bihar, and parts of Haryana.”

Source: OneWorld South Asia