A healthy sign: India set to be a polio-free nation

NEW DELHI: India is marking three years without any new recorded cases of polio — a feat that is expected to prompt the World Health Organisation (WHO) to declare the country polio- free in March.

It will be three years since Rukhshar Khatoon, became the last person in the country to catch the disease.

Rukshara Khatoon plays outside her home in Shapara, near Kolkata. She is the last person in india to have been diagnosed with polio. Pic/AFP

It is seen as confirmation of one of India’s biggest public health successes, achieved through a massive and sustained immunisation programme.

India’s health minister hailed it as a “ monumental milestone”. In 2012 the World Health Organisation removed India from the list of polio- endemic countries. Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria remain on it.

The list refers to countries in which the virus is circulating freely and the transmission of the infectious disease has not been stopped.

“ This monumental milestone was possible due to unwavering political will at the highest level, commitment of adequate financial resources, technological innovation ... and the tireless efforts of millions of workers including more than 23 lakh ( 2.3 million) vaccinators,” said Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad.

To commemorate the occasion, several monuments all over the country were illuminated by Rotary International, an organisation working for humanitarian services.

“ It is a huge victory for India and its people. From being one of the most polio- infected regions a couple of years ago to completely becoming a polio- free nation, the campaign in India has come a long way,” said Deepak Kapur, chairman of Rotary India National Polio Plus Committee.

The last one
On January 13, 2011, then 18- month- old Rukshar Khatoon, from the Shapara village, about 30 kilometres from the city of Kolkata was diagnosed to be suffering from polio.

However, life has steadily improved since she was diagnosed.

Doctors and her family say her leg is getting stronger thanks to treatment and she also goes to school.

“ She can now stand on her feet and walk, but can’t run,” her father, Abdul Saha said.
“ When her friends play, she remains a spectator,” he added.

Her mother further stated that Rukshar often feels pain in right leg ( even) after a walk.
“ She is now going to school and leading a normal life,” said Nilanjan Mondal, a medical officer from the local health centre.

“ We are closely monitoring her condition,” Mondal added.
But her father is filled with guilt for failing to get her vaccinated when he had the chance.

Rukshar was ill with an unrelated ailment when she was due to be vaccinated and missed it.
Her parents ensured their son was immunised but did not follow up with their two daughters.
“It was a grave mistake,” Saha said.

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