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Toronto Star Columnist Examines Polio Eradication In India

According a Toronto Star column, it is an “enormous challenge” for India’s government to try to get all of its citizens immunized against polio. “It has used everything from elephants and camels to rickety boats and bikes to ferry the vaccine to remote regions where temperatures have topped 40C the past three months. The polio serum needs to be kept at a temperature below 8C. Its efforts have not all been in vain: the number of new cases in the country last year was 559, down from 200,000 in the early 1980s,” writes columnist Rick Westhead.

This year, India’s health ministry is expected to administer almost 1.1 billion vaccines to 172 million children, the Toronto Star reports. In more than half the country, “vaccination drives have been held every four to six weeks since the start of 2006. It’s a constant, exhaustive struggle to keep pace in a country that’s adding 30 million babies a year,” according to the column.

“The fact is, we aren’t going to beat this until we address problems like sanitation and nutrition. They are all too closely linked,” said Arvind Dabass, a WHO physician who oversees the polio eradication effort in the district of Saharas. “Every year that passes without a conclusive victory over the disease generates more scrutiny of the WHO’s polio eradication program. The Indian government alone is spending $325 million a year, and the eradication effort worldwide has ballooned to more than $1 billion annually,” according to the newspaper. In addition, critics argue the money should be used for other pressing causes.  

“Eradicating this disease is a huge idea, on the scale of going to the moon, and as we get closer, it requires more investment, which prompts more criticism that we are spending too much for that final 1 percent,” said Chris Wolff, an scientist who oversees the WHO’s polio eradication program in India. He said it is “not unfathomable” that donors could pull the plug on funding (7/11).