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India in queue for polio-free honour

New Delhi, Jan. 13 (Reuters): India today marked three years since its last reported case of polio, paving the way for it to be declared free of the crippling virus and boosting efforts to wipe out the disease globally, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said.

The country’s last case of the wild polio virus was detected on January 13, 2011, in a two-year-old girl in Bengal. Three years without any new cases means India can be declared polio-free.

Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria are the only countries in the world where the disease remains endemic.

“We give huge credit to the government.... It makes us extremely proud and highly responsible for having helped the government to reach this incredible achievement,” India’s WHO representative, Nata Menabde, said.

Menabde said the WHO would officially declare India as polio-free by the end of March, when the legal process for certification was completed.

The highly infectious disease often spreads in areas with poor sanitation — a factor that helped it keep a grip on India for many decades — and children under five are the most vulnerable. But it can be prevented by population-wide vaccination. Menabde said millions were involved in the drive to immunise children by giving them polio drops.

Over 170 million children are immunised every year. The drive has cost the government $2.5 billion (Rs 1.53 lakh crore) since 1995.

In 2009, 741 Indians fell sick with polio, nearly half the world’s cases that year. The number dropped to 42 in 2010 and only one in 2011.

India’s success has given impetus to the global fight against polio, Menabde said.