Big moment for India-Indian health minister, Mr Ghulam Nabi Azad receiving the WHO's polio free certificate at a historic event held at WHO Hq.
WHO South-East Asia Region, home to a quarter of the world's population, was certified polio-free on March 27, 2014 by an independent commission under the WHO certification process. This is the fourth of six WHO regions to be certified, marking an important step towards global polio eradication. With this step, 80% of the world's population now lives in certified polio-free regions.
An independent panel of 11 experts in public health, epidemiology, virology, clinical medicine and related specialties constituting the South-East Asia Regional Certification Commission for Polio Eradication (SEA-RCCPE) met for two days to review evidence from countries before reaching the decision that all 11 countries of the Region are now polio-free and have met the requirements for certification.
Before a gegion can be certified polio-free, several conditions must be satisfied such as: at least three years of zero confirmed cases due to indigenous wild poliovirus; excellent laboratory-based surveillance for poliovirus; demonstrated capacity to detect, report, and respond to imported cases of poliomyelitis; and assurance of safe containment of polioviruses in laboratories (introduced since 2000).
"This is a momentous victory for the millions of health workers who have worked with governments, nongovernmental organizations, civil society and international partners to eradicate polio from the Region. It is a sign of what we can bequeath our children when we work together," said Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director for the WHO South-East Asia Region.
Polio eradication programmes, through their networks and knowledge in reaching the 'unreached', have strengthened the delivery of health services to the most vulnerable communities. "Thanks to polio eradication, we now know where these children are who were difficult to reach with vaccine. Now the polio programme has successfully reached them with polio drops in every round, there is no excuse not to go back with other critical health services, from how to have a safe birth, to where to get access to tuberculosis treatment and how to prevent HIV infection," said Dr Khetrapal Singh.