Almost there ...

Almost There...

Fifty years ago, on 12th April, 1955 at a press conference held at the University of Michigan, Dr. Thomas Francis Jr announced results of the study on the polio vaccine developed by Jonas Salk. Salk had developed the vaccine in 1952, but that was only half the story. The vaccine needed to be tested rigorously. Using advanced statistical survey methods public trials were conducted on 2 million children starting in 1953. The testing methods used for the polio vaccine were so well designed that all future drug and vaccine tests would use it, or a variant of these polio-tests.
It did not take long for the government and the public at large to grasp the fact that polio eradication was no distant dream. I don't know how much of the American evangelistic polio vaccination fervor during the 50s had to do with the fact that the much beloved F.D.R., the greatest American president since Lincoln, had suffered from it. Incidentally, his charity paid for most of the initial research and testing of the Salk vaccine. By 1964, in less than nine years after the adoption of the Salk vaccine, there were only 121 cases of polio are reported in the U.S.
However it took Albert Sabine to develop an oral form of the vaccine (introduced in 1963) for polio vaccination to really take off in the rest of the world. The new oral vaccine was also 'live' and thus more effective as immunized people could 'infect' others with immunity instead of being immunized but still carriers as in the Salk vaccine.
The timeline of polio vaccination has been vastly different in Asia and Africa, which still have incidents of polio. India always reports the most number of polio cases in the world each year. It might seem to be a small figure per capita but some children will never be able to walk again.

more photographs

Only in 1995, following China's example, did India institute a 'National Polio Immunization Day'. Better late than never, the national immunization days were the most successful health program ever launched in India. A British study concluded that the community awareness of the immunization campaign was better in the most difficult to reach areas where infectious diseases like polio are prevalent compared to the more accessible areas. Immunization programs, in particular national immunization days, often are the most successful programs in reaching pockets of high-risk children, who otherwise do not receive the full benefits of other basic primary health care services.
This year, the country recorded only 12 incidents of polio. This was a marked decline from the 225 cases recorded in 2003. In 2004, the count was 85 - the first time India did not have the dubious distinction of having the largest number of polio cases in the world.

Almost there but fifty years too late!
I am really happy with the progress made in the last decade but pained by the fact that took us so long to implement a program almost forty years after the vaccine was proven to be effective. Such delayed reactions have cost us dearly, to speak nothing of AIDS. It has more to do with the mindset of people in India than the fact that we are still a 'developing' country. I think we have used that excuse more often than required. Though some people are making valiant efforts, the official position and effort have been less than encouraging. From,

"However it is still debatable as to whether there is sufficient commitment to combating the epidemic at government level. Many Indians in positions of power refuse to accept that their country faces a grave threat from the epidemic. And as the epidemic spreads, the battle against AIDS is mired by a lack of consensus on the extent of the pandemic, the "right strategy" to combat it, and how to deal frankly with sexuality."

This time we won't have fifty years to respond.

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