In 1995, the World Health Organisation (WHO)
launched the pulse polio immunization programme, with the aim of making the
world polio-free by the year 2000. Poliomyelitis is a disease that makes
affected muscles weak, wasted and paralysed, leading to disability.
Live attenuated oral polio vaccines were found suitable for WHO’s programme. Children up to the age of five were taken into consideration. In India, the government using NGO infrastructure to mobilise all available sources, so that not a single child of the age group was missed. The results were promising, and the programme was driven forward, leading up to the Intensive Pulse Polio Immunisation (IPPI) programme. The days of vaccination increased every year till 2011, when India could not note a single new case of polio.
The challenge was maintaining the status of a polio-free country. Surveillance was strengthened and the immunisation continued. Today, India has been free of polio for the last three years.
This result came about due to the strong efforts of Honorary Health Workers (HHWs), those who worked with body and soul. They were posted at selected clubs, slums, ferry ghats, railway stations, fields and festivals to make the programme successful. The HHW would go from slum to slum, home to home, to find people left out after a day of immunisation, walking through rain and scorching sun. This hunt would be conducted for three to seven days. Violet dye would be applied to the little fingers of the left hand of children, indicating that they had been vaccinated.
Initially, there had been hesitation and questions about the effectiveness of the programme; even paediatricians questioned it. But local bodies like the municipalities, panchayats and zila parishads did not stop the efforts from the start. Today, the day of vaccination is a festive day. It was through the success of this programme that India is proudly polio-free.
Every house in the locality is marked by Honorary Health Workers (HHWs) as proof of their visit after the scheduled day for vaccination.
The vaccinations are usually administered outside local hospitals and clubs.
In its early years, the polio drive was resisted by sceptical parents. After extensive awareness programmes, it became a matter of pride for mothers to get their children vaccinated.
Workers travel from one slum to another to administer the vaccination to all the children in the area.
Health workers check railway stations to ensure that no child misses a dose of the vaccine.
The oral polio vaccine induces an immune response by creating antibodies without causing the disease itself. Over 170 million children are reached during immunisation days, through 2.3 million vaccinators.
Health workers visit all houses in an area following an immunisation programme, to ensure that no children have been left out. The violet marks on the fingers and chalked indications outside houses help them keep track.
Violet ink on the little finger of the left hand stands as proof that a child has been vaccinated.
The vaccine is stored in a refrigerator to maintain its stability.