Today, India celebrated a long-sought milestone in its fight against polio: By all indications, the country has gone 1 year without a single case. (Final confirmation is expected in a few weeks, when the most recent laboratory samples have been analyzed.) The last known case, in a 2-year-old girl in West Bengal, occurred on 13 January 2011.
India has been one of four so-called endemic countries in which public health efforts were never able to interrupt indigenous transmission of the wild poliovirus. Because of its sweeping poverty, population density, and poor sanitation, India has proved a particularly tough environment in which to wipe out the virus, with the country delivering an estimated 1 billon doses of polio vaccine each year. For years, India recorded more cases annually than any other country. But thanks to redoubled efforts by the government, the partners in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), and a recent infusion of money and energy from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, cases dropped from 741in 2009 to zero.
India's achievement is a major boost to the beleaguered GPEI, which has spent more than $8 billion over the past 23 years to rid the world of the disease—a goal originally set for 2000. Still, the program fell short of meeting its goal of stopping poliovirus transmission in two endemic countries by the end of 2011.