Polio eradication has a lesson for TB control. By BLESSINA KUMAR


A week back the doorbell rang and two ladies stood with vaccine boxes at my doorstep asking if there were children five years and below in the house as they wanted to give polio drops. Hearing a 'no' from me they went to the next door and then continued knocking on doors. India just completed a year without a single case of Polio and this is a great achievement indeed. World over India's Polio control is being quoted as a huge success story and rightly so.
Yesterday’s front page news says 'WHO knocks India off polio list.' The prime minister said, 'The success of our efforts against the disease show that teamwork pays.' The Health Minister said, 'Till 2009, India accounted for half of the total number of polio cases being reported worldwide. Its a remarkable achievement for us to be taken off the list.' All of us as Indians need to be proud of this achievement.
This got me thinking. So what is it that worked for Polio? A few that I think worked. There must be others that can be added to this.
- There was high level commitment for eradicating Polio.
- The Goal was ambitious bold eradication and not a weak marginal reduction in numbers.
- Target was zero.
- No effort was spared to achieve this. Resources, HR everything was mobilized to achieve this.
- Polio was high on the agenda of politicians, policy makers and other high level decision makers.
- Very popular ambassadors promoted Polio vaccination. You cannot step out of the house and not see a posters of the President, Chief minister, leading Bollywood stars actually administering the Polio drops, endorsing the campaign and urging parents to get their children vaccinated against polio.
- Massive awareness campaign. Attractive branding. A designated 'Polio Sunday' when you could get polio drops for the children.
This was an effort which involved all players and stakeholders. Not just on paper or as a rubber stamp.
To this we could also add, no Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Rotary was major supporter. A group of committed people funding continuously and consistently with their personal money pushed the levels of response for polio. While Global Fund millions poured into the country for AIDS, Malaria and TB the 'personal' was missing and money ruled not lives. It was easy money meant to fill coffers, for many organizations.
TB is killing one child every 5 minutes! We do not see them affected but their ashes swirl all around us. How long will we use the usual argument that TB is different and continue to turn a blind eye. Now that polio is off the list can we turn our eyes to TB and eradicate it.
I am asking for a band of dedicated people to join me to call for 100% commitment to make ‘Getting to ZERO’ a reality.
(The author is a TB/HIV Activist, and also serves as a Community Representative and Vice Chair- Stop TB Partnership, housed in WHO Geneva. She writes for Citizen News Service – CNS, website: www.citizen-news.org)

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