Celebrating Polio Eradication In India

“Community Mobilization Coordinators are the real foot soldiers of the [CORE Group Polio Project]. … They work tirelessly for the community that they belong to and care for.”

– Dr. Sudipta Mondal, CORE Group Polio Project Lead

Celebrating Polio Eradication In India

“Community Mobilization Coordinators are the real foot soldiers of the [CORE Group Polio Project]. … They work tirelessly for the community that they belong to and care for.”

– Dr. Sudipta Mondal, CORE Group Polio Project Lead

Overview

Every traveler who passes through the village of Sambhalhera in India must cross under a gate—a gate that stands as a reminder of the country’s fight against polio. Named the “Polio Eradication Gate,” it symbolizes India’s incredible accomplishment of ending the spread of this paralyzing disease.

Polio, officially known as poliomyelitis, is a highly infectious, disabling, and life-threatening disease that often affects young children. Once contracted, this disease has no cure and can only be prevented by an oral polio vaccine. The virus can infect a person’s spinal cord, causing paralysis, and is transmitted from person-to-person. The virus can live for many weeks and can also contaminate food and water in unsanitary conditions.

The Moradabad district, outside Delhi, India, was once considered the epicenter of the poliovirus. In 2009, India accounted for over 60 percent of all global polio cases and health experts feared this would be the last country to eradicate the disease. Because of the country’s vast population, tropical climate, and other environmental challenges, the eradication of polio in India was a feat of dedication and commitment.

In 2014, India was officially declared polio-free, along with the rest of the Southeast Asia Region, and PCI is proud of its critical role in polio eradication efforts.

Putting An End to Polio

To support polio eradication, PCI mobilized, recruited, and trained local leaders and community members to share information on the prevention of polio, built the capacity of government frontline healthcare workers to provide polio vaccinations, and empowered communities with sanitation knowledge to reduce disease transmission.

PCI’s efforts contributed to the eradication of polio from India and helped halt the spread of polio from its two neighboring counties—Pakistan and Afghanistan. PCI continues to work in five high-risk districts—Meerut, Moradabad, Muzaffarnagar, Sambhal, and Shamli—in Western Uttar Pradesh, India to increase the acceptance of the vaccine for polio and identifying and serving hard-to-reach families.

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Empowering Communities and Health Workers

PCI has been a member of the Core Group Polio Project India consortium network since 2001. In collaboration with World Health Organization, the Government of India and other partners, PCI helps increase acceptance of the oral polio vaccine in the target communities, strengthens routine immunization, and improves health behaviors to help populations maintain immunity.

One of the major challenges PCI faced was mistrust of the polio vaccine within local communities, mainly due to a myth that the Indian government was using the vaccine to sterilize young men.

PCI interventions focus on raising awareness about the risk of polio infections among populations living in high-risk areas and motivating them to ensure every child under five years of age receives the polio vaccine.

To support these efforts, PCI deploys over 520 Community Mobilization Coordinators at a grassroots level who share information and education about the disease, transmission, and vaccine at the doorsteps of caregiver homes and in organized, community mothers’ meeting on a regular basis. The project also includes in-school activities by which children are educated on the benefits of the polio vaccine and the polio vaccination schedule. The students are also encouraged to become immunization champions in their homes and communities.

Beyond working directly with beneficiaries, PCI strengthens national and regional immunization systems by supporting frontline health workers responsible for community outreach, monitoring routine immunizations, and collaborating with various stakeholders, including local gatekeepers and religious leaders.

Using a mobile van, PCI organizes awareness campaigns to provide comprehensive communication and education across all the districts. PCI supports social mobilization activities, polio education in primary schools, and children’s rallies before the vaccination day to create awareness and polio vaccine acceptance among the community. Additionally, a mobile van goes to district and block headquarters and high-risk areas with loudspeaker announcements on polio and immunizations followed by Nukkad Nataks, street plays, and puppet shows.

Success Through Partnerships

PCI implements evidence-based social mobilization approaches and coordinates with the district government officials, local/international non-governmental organization representatives such as the World Health Organization, UNICEF, Rotary International, and local health authorities to monitor the spread of the virus and strengthen routine immunization services.

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