Ellyn Ogden has coordinated USAID’s polio eradication initiative since 1997 and is a frequent visitor to India.
The news out of India this week marking 12 months with no confirmed case of polio is indeed a landmark event. I have had the good fortune of working with the Pulse Polio Program, as the Polio Eradication Initiative is called here, since 1997, and have seen firsthand the hard work and dedication of the Indian government at the national, state, district, block and panchaiyat levels. Over 2 million health workers, mobilizers, and volunteers have contributed to this success and deserve to be seen as heroes in their communities.
There have been many challenges over the years, not the least of which was figuring out how many children under age five there really are in India. When I participated in my first surveillance review in Bihar, there were no surveillance officers assigned yet and the eradication program was in its infancy. Today, India’s polio eradication program and its surveillance system, the envy of all other polio eradication programs, is often cited as the model to strive for.
With the help of WHO, UNICEF and Rotary international, detailed plans are developed to assure that vaccine reaches every village, data is analyzed and feedback given to constantly improve the work of the teams. Detailed maps help trace the daily route of the vaccination teams. Supervisors provide guidance and quality control. Monitors verify the work of the teams, by checking to see if their fingers are marked and flagging any locations with poor coverage. Sweep teams go back to find missed children. Issues are discussed at evening meetings during the campaigns and corrective action taken immediately. Government accountability and ownership is very visible.