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India defeats polio, advances global eradication

NEW DELHI, India -- India marks three years since its last reported polio case on Monday, meaning it will soon be certified as having defeated the ancient scourge in a huge advance for global eradication efforts.

The milestone confirms one of India's biggest public health success stories, achieving something once thought impossible, thanks to a massive and sustained vaccination program.

With the number of cases in decline in Nigeria and Afghanistan, two of only three countries where polio is still endemic, world efforts to consign the crippling virus to history are making steady progress.

“In 2012, there were the fewest numbers of cases in endemic countries as ever before. So far in 2013 (records are still being checked), there were even less,” Hamid Jafari, global polio expert at the World Health Organization told AFP.

“If the current trends of progress continue we could very easily see the end of polio in Afghanistan and Nigeria in 2014,” added Jafari, hailed as having played a crucial role in India's victory.

Despite the success, isolated polio outbreaks in the Horn of Africa and war-wracked Syria emerged as new causes for concern in 2013.

Nicole Deutsch, head of polio operations for U.N. children's arm UNICEF in India, called three years without polio in the country “a monumental milestone.”

Success and Caution

Despite its population density and sanitation problems, “India proved to the world how to conquer this disease,” she told AFP.

The Rotary International charity, which has been a key donor, will illuminate the India Gate and Red Fort monuments in New Delhi with a message celebrating the achievement.

Countries are certified by the WHO as being polio-free if they go 12 months without a case, and are then said to have eradicated it after a period of three years without new infections.

India will likely receive this endorsement only in March, which will trigger more exuberant celebrations than on Monday.

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The last polio patient registered in India, three year-old Rukhshar Khatoon plays outside her home in Shapara village at the Panchla block, about 40 kilometers west of Kolkata, on Thursday, Jan. 9. India marked three years since its last reported polio case on Monday.

(AFP)

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