The following article appeared in the Washington Post on Thursday, January 12th. 

On Friday, India is set to reach a major milestone in the global battle against polio, recording a full year without a single new case of the disease in the country that was long its epicenter and its biggest exporter. 

It is a massive global public health achievement that has defied the odds and confounded the skeptics, a victory — attained with U.S. financial support and expertise — that will see India removed from a list of four countries where the crippling disease remains endemic. The three other countries are Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria. 

The feat raises the very real possibility that polio, like smallpox, could one day be consigned to history, along with the heartbreaking image of the Indian beggar, crawling on twisted, thin legs, pleading for alms. 

Until 1995, India recorded 50,000 to 150,000 cases of polio each year. In 2009, 14 years into India’s campaign to eradicate polio, 741 Indian children still contracted the incurable disease, more than anywhere else in the world, and morale was sagging. 

In 2010, the number fell to 42. In 2011, only a single new case was recorded, that of a 2-year-old girl who fell ill Jan. 13. 

Anuradha Gupta, a joint secretary in India’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, said the prevailing mood was one of hope, optimism and enthusiasm, but not smugness, given the risk that the disease could still find a way back from abroad.
By Simon Denyer 
Thursday, Jan 12, 2012