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Learning from success | The Indian Express

The story of the relationship between state and private enterprise needs a rewrite. The fight against polio should compel a similar attack on other preventable diseases. With India reporting zero cases of polio once again this year, it is finally on the brink of being officially declared polio-free. After 741 cases in 2009, 42 in 2010 and a lone case in West Bengal in 2011, the subsequent three years have been clear, giving hope that this time round, the elimination of the debilitating disease will be longstanding. For this, the public health network will have to maintain a heightened vigil to check against import of the virus, especially from neighbouring countries, and remain watchful by testing the habitat for the virus’s prevalence. And for all the hiccups in the immunisation drive since 1995, the anti-polio programme also provides a template for rallying healthcare workers and volunteers to take on prevention programmes against other diseases, by immunisation and sanitation initiatives. The fight against polio, taken up with vigour in the Pulse Polio Programme since 1995, rested on leaving no child behind, by targeting the entire population in a designated time period, often a day. This required motivating workers and volunteers, fine-tuning the vaccine supply chain and, perhaps the most difficult of all, creating awareness. The almost celebratory edge given to vaccination days helped spread the news and made the exercise participatory at a macro level. But plugging the gaps needed localised attention — to identify children who may have slipped through for lack of reach and awareness, but also because of rumoured and false beliefs about the side-effects of the vaccine. Failure to plug the gaps delayed India’s achievement, and this experience must serve as a cautionary reminder of the effects of letting up. But now that it is within grasp, it is important that watchfulness be maintained to identify any possible introduction of the polio virus in the country. Remember the widespread prevalence of polio and the toll it would take on thousands of un-vaccinated children each year? That memory should keep us on guard. Moreover, the Pulse Polio Programme should compel a commensurate attack on other preventable diseases — in the strategies for coordination and awareness that it is based on, as well as for the simple reminder that to make a proper success of any effort, every last person in the target group must be accounted for.
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