In 1988, India had an estimated 200,000 polio cases per year and was one of the last countries to track and report cases of polio. Since then, the country consistently improved its polio vaccination and preventative healthcare programs. The polio program’s success can be attributed to motivated central leadership combined with comprehensive local commitment. By 2014, the WHO declared India to be polio-free.
The Hard to Reach
Every child unvaccinated for polio in India.
The elimination of polio in India has had a lasting impact on the country. Not only has it served as proof that disease elimination in such a large country is possible, but many of the strategies that were developed throughout the years created an outline for future vaccination efforts. Here are some of the lessons that polio elimination has taught the global community.
- India employed a holistic approach to health care by addressing a broad range of health concerns, in addition to polio vaccinations, thus ensuring uptake from hard-to-reach populations who may otherwise not think of polio as an urgent matter.
- Non-state actors were invaluable in the funding, planning and detailed implementation of polio eradication in India. While these organizations influenced decisions, the Indian government had final decision-making power. Polio eradication required a strong government willing to spend resources on these strategies.
- Initially, there was a lack of accurate data reporting polio vaccinations. India began to use microplans – a house-by-house representation of demographic and vaccination data – to inform the polio vaccination strategy.
- Policy planners realized that it was easier to assuage vaccine hesitancy when participants identified with the community health workers – whether by gender representation, religion or caste.
This research was made possible through the Reach Alliance, a partnership between the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy and the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth. Research was also funded by the Canada Research Chairs program and the Ralph and Roz Halbert Professorship of Innovation at the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy. We are grateful to have had the opportunity to speak with and learn from those we met and interviewed in India.
This research was vetted and received approval from the Ethics Review Board at the University of Toronto.