Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Polio Eradication: India’s Pursuit of Perennial Prevention

January 18, 2013

Eradicating polio is not an easy task, but India, long-regarded as the most difficult place to end polio, proves it is possible. On January 13, India celebrated its 2nd anniversary without a case of polio. I wanted to share with you some photos of a few of the heroes that were part of India’s success who ensured the hardest to reach children received the vaccine.

During 2007-08, massive floods of the Kosi River posed a daunting task for the health officials in charge of vaccination activities. The flash flood had swept away almost everything that fell in its course and caused massive population displacement. Since polio spreads rapidly through water-bodies, this sudden flood in a polio-endemic area was a major concern for the global authorities in charge of polio eradication. Under these unprecedented circumstances, the local health workers, with very little infrastructural support, showed enormous courage to continue vaccination activity and reached out to children in remotest corners of the flooded state of Bihar. Although the main bridge connecting the major districts had collapsed during the floods, the vaccination team could reach most of the remote places by walking or through locally arranged boats. This team of valiant health workers ensured they vaccinated those who were in the utmost need of protection.

This photo essay attempts to capture the spirit of that historical journey by countless public health workers of rural India who fought and won the battle against polio and inclement weather conditions in order to ensure a healthier tomorrow for all of us. This story of triumph of human spirit against all odds stacked up reiterates the conviction that the current adversities in the remaining endemic countries can also be overcome; with a shared dream and firm commitment for a world free of polio. 

(The author/photographer was the Surveillance Medical Officer of World Health Organization’s National Polio Surveillance Project-India during 2006-2009 and accompanied the team of public health workers in this vaccination campaign amidst flood conditions)

Place: Madhubani, Bihar, India. Period: August 2007
The Impending Doom

Kosi River pounding hard on a bridge which was the main connection between two important administrative blocks of Bihar. The bridge gave in and was shut down moments after the photo was taken.

Who Will ‘Bridge’ the ‘Gap’?
Stranded children at the other side of a dilapidated bridge which was their only connection to the mainland.

 The Journey Begins
The team of public health workers braves the inclement weather to reach out to flooded villages in remote embankment areas of Kosi River. They walked barefooted for miles in waist deep water with the vaccine carriers on their back.

Impossible is Nothing
Health workers visiting each and every household after they reached the flooded villages with the cold boxes with vaccines.

The First Drop of Care
 A public health nurse vaccinates a newborn child in a flooded and hard to access village in Kosi embankment area. Newborns and younger children are most vulnerable to the paralytic effect of polio virus and therefore are the primary target group for vaccination campaigns.

And the Heroes Sailed Along
The courageous health workers return back after conquering the floods and protecting the future generation. Thus, the sun ‘sets on polio virus’ with flag of vaccination flying high in turbulent Kosi river.

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