NEW DELHI – India has gone a full year without recording a new case of polio, a significant benchmark for the South Asian nation and an encouraging development for health professionals fighting to eradicate the stubborn disease worldwide.
But experts warned that premature declarations of victory could lead to complacency among Indian parents, who might stop immunizing their children. That would increase the risk of another outbreak, particularly in a nation where about 26 million babies are born each year. India will not be officially certified as polio-free until at least three years have passed without a new case.
“It’s an incredible milestone for polio eradication,” said Rod Curtis, a Delhi-based specialist with UNICEF. “But complacency is perhaps the biggest threat to the program today. You could get down to the last three children in the world, but unless you (immunize) those kids, it could explode again.”
The last Indian victim, 2-year-old Ruksana Khatun, fell ill near Kolkata in West Bengal on Jan. 13, 2011.
India is located in a bad polio neighborhood. Two of three other countries in the world where the disease is endemic – Pakistan and Afghanistan – are neighbors (the third is Nigeria). And China, on its northern border, was reinfected in 2011.