In 1995, India reported more than 51% of the world’s polio cases – 3,142 out of a total 6,161 cases worldwide.
Many health experts feared that India would be the last country to eradicate polio. Instead, India was declared polio free in 2014, following three years without a single case. Polio continues to be endemic in Nigeria, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, and recent outbreaks have occurred in several other countries, requiring India to maintain its vigilance and high levels of immunization coverage. The Core Group Polio Project (CGPP), implemented by PCI in collaboration with other partners, has played an important role in this success. The Project, funded by USAID through World Vision, is working in the most high-risk districts of Uttar Pradesh, where resistance to polio immunization was previously high. CGPP has succeeded in raising polio immunization coverage among children under age 5 to 99%.
A key factor in reaching this nearly complete coverage has been community mobilization. PCI recruits and trains community mobilization coordinators and also enlists support from community and religious leaders. Schoolchildren are also recruited to support the effort by announcing the dates of vaccination drives and teaching the adult members of their families and communities about preventing disease. The same parents who were reluctant to trust health workers have been far more willing to listen to members of their own communities, especially children. Between 2007 and 2013 over 5,000 “child mobilizers” participated in 32,329 rallies in 51 rounds of polio vaccinations. Another part of PCI’s strategy is to assist in organizing and facilitating health camps where medicines and vaccines are provided by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. PCI also helps build the capacity of government frontline healthcare workers responsible for community outreach and monitoring. PCI is also promoting breastfeeding (thereby reducing diarrhea incidence in infants) and promoting hand-washing and sanitation to reduce new infections, as polio is spread through poor sanitary practices.
PCI recognizes the importance of integrated programming in maternal and child health. While the focus of CGPP is on polio eradication, as noted earlier the project also promotes breastfeeding and sanitation, as well as seeks to strengthen routine immunization services against all childhood diseases. Through these efforts, PCI and the CGPP Project have helped raise full immunization coverage against vaccine-preventable illnesses, including one of the leading causes of childhood mortality – measles.