After Ending Polio, India Turns To Stop Another Childhood Killer | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio
Filed Under:

After Ending Polio, India Turns To Stop Another Childhood Killer

Play associated audio

The world just took one step closer to eradicating its second disease.

On Thursday, health officials declared India — and the entire Southeast Asia region — free of polio. And India's success against paralyzing disease is already opening doors for the massive country to stop even bigger problems.

Just a decade ago, many health leaders thought it was impossible for a massive country to end polio. Northern India was the world's epicenter of the disease. The region was reporting more polio cases than other.

But due to relentless vaccination campaigns — and a flood of money from international foundations — India reported its last case of polio in 2011.

"This was an enormous public health success," says epidemiologist James Goodson, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. "It means that children and their parents no longer live in fear of that crippling disease in India."

It also means that India, for the first time, has the tools and infrastructure to tackle other childhood diseases.

At the top of the list? Measles.

The virus is a big deal in India. An estimated 56,000 children died from measles in 2011 alone, which translates to about 156 deaths each day.

"Fortunately, the measles vaccine is one of the most effective, and it provides lifelong protection from the disease," Goodson says. "But you do need two doses."

That's been the problem in India. Babies have traditionally gotten the first dose of the measles vaccine when they get their other shots, Goodson says. But the government just didn't have a way to reach all these kids twice — until the fight against polio created a way.

"Polio eradication uses mass vaccination campaigns," he says. "These social networks of volunteers and some paid staff are very helpful for making sure that all children come to receive the vaccination during those campaigns.

"So now what we're seeing in India is that these networks are being retooled to fight measles," he says.

At a vaccination drive in Moradabad, India, the transition to fighting measles is already apparent.

At one immunization booth, health workers are giving babies two drops of the polio vaccine and then their second shot for measles.

But ending measles is going to be a bit more challenging than polio, says Dr. Anisure Saddique, who directs the polio effort in the region for UNICEF.

"Measles is not like polio, because the vaccine is an injectable. Anyone in just a half-hour training can administer polio vaccine," he says. "But for measles vaccinations, we need trained manpower and these health workers within the government [are] limited."

Nevertheless, Saddique says that India's success against polio has motivated local governments to train more people and ramp up health care.

"This whole polio program, actually, it brought public health on the focus," he says. "All the health workers are known by the community, so there is a huge demand."

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

Church Of Scientology Calls New HBO Documentary 'Bigoted'

The filmmaker says Going Clear, harshly critical of the Church of Scientology, is about the dangers of "blind faith." The church has hit back with an aggressive public relations effort of its own.
NPR

Think Nobody Wants To Buy Ugly Fruits And Veggies? Think Again

Remember that old movie trope, in which the mousy girl takes off her glasses to reveal she was a beauty all along? A similar scenario is playing out among food waste fighters in the world of produce.
NPR

Amazingly, Congress Actually Got Something Done

The leaders and members must, in a word, compromise. And on this occasion, Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi did just that, with skill and savvy.
NPR

Can Republicans Get Ahead In The 2016 Digital Race?

When Sen. Ted Cruz threw his hat into the ring, it happened first on Twitter. Political news is breaking more and more on social media, and both sides face different challenges in reaching out.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.