Rukhsar Khatoon, 4, is too young to fully grasp the significance of her life: that she is the final documented case of polio in a country of 1.2 billion people. She has become the greatest symbol of India’s valiant — and successful — effort to rid itself of a crippling and potentially deadly disease.
Her face has appeared in newspapers and on television. She’s been invited to national events by Rotary International, the organization that led the effort to rid India of polio. She is a literal poster child, an inspiration, a symbol of a feat that no doctor or health official thought possible even a few years ago. But this past Thursday, the World Health Organization (WHO) officially certified India as being polio-free.
This is great news that all Southeast Asia is certified polio-free by the World Health Organization — a momentous achievement for global public health and the worldwide effort to eradicate polio.
This extraordinary feat wasn’t easy. Most experts believed that India, with its high population density, poor health care services and regional accessibility problems, would remain the most polio-endemic region in the world.
Great achievements don’t just happen; they require the great efforts of many. The polio eradication movement, started in 1988, was a joint effort between the Indian government; WHO; Rotary International; the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; UNICEF and various other NGOs; the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and about 2 million workers who vaccinated nearly 170 million throughout the country to finally wipe out the disease.
Truly, this worldwide effort should serve as a reminder that when the global community bands together to solve an issue, great things can be achieved. And today should serve as a call to not simply continue the efforts but to exponentially increase them.
India plans to subsidize wheat, rice and cereals for some 800 million people under a $20 billion scheme to cut malnutrition and ease poverty.
India has some of the world’s worst poverty and malnutrition with two-thirds of its 1.2 billion people poor and half of the country’s children malnourished.
The Food Security Bill legislation allows those who qualify to buy 5 kilograms of rice a month for 3 rupees (4.5 cents) a kilogram. Wheat will cost 2 rupees a kilogram, and for cereals the cost is 1 rupee.
Pregnant women and new mothers will also receive at least 6,000 rupees ($90) in aid. In a deviation from India’s patriarchal traditions, the scheme designates the eldest woman in each home as the head of the household, hoping to prevent rations from ending up on the black market. This would also help keep subsidy costs from escalating, the government said.
The very poorest families, already receiving subsidized rates for up to 35 kilograms of grains a month, will continue to receive those benefits, the government said.
India has offered free midday school meals since the 1960s in an effort to persuade poor parents to send their kids to school. That program now reaches some 120 million children. The country gives a similar promise of a hot, cooked meal to pregnant women and new mothers — a promise the new bill extends to children between 6 and 14 years old.
Food Minister K.V. Thomas called the bill a first step toward improving food distribution in a country where poor transportation and lack of refrigeration mean up to 40 percent of all grains and produce rot before they reach the market.
The partnership between IKEA and UNICEF has worked towards providing a better live for over 74 million children in India.
The partnership was launched with a campaign in the state of Uttar Pradesh to promote children’s welfare, and was expanded to include the state of Andhra Pradesh in 2006, especially targeting the cotton industry to end child labor. In 2008, the partnership expanded to fifteen states with the aim to promote child rights, survival, growth and development. It is estimated that more than 28 million children are engaged in child labor and an estimated 4,700 children under the age of five die every day.
The philanthropic arm of IKEA, the IKEA Foundation, is the largest corporate cash donor to the 65-year-old United Nations humanitarian program, UNICEF. In the past ten years, these are some highlights of the partnership:
• 370,000 children screened for malnourishment, and 56,500 children treated.
• 2.14 million women were taught the benefits of breastfeeding their children.
• 32 million homes now have toilets, and 67 percent of schools have access to toilets, improved drinking water and hand washing facilities.
• Children in 13,120 schools benefit from newly trained teachers and better curriculum.
• 15,000 children in India’s cotton and carpet belts now go to normal schools after being taught basic reading, writing and math skills in bridge schools.
• 600 new Child Protection Committees set up to end child labor practices.
• More than 500,000 leaders, community members and officials trained to protect children
The work of the IKEA Foundation in India is even more remarkable when you consider that they do not yet retail their products in the country, though this might be changing soon.
Nothing demonstrates human interconnectedness like the spread of infectious disease. Polio is endemic to just three countries: Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan. In recent years however, visitors have carried polio back to 39 previously polio-free states. Thus people everywhere have a stake in eradicating polio, as we have stamped out smallpox.
Immunizing the last unvaccinated children on the planet is an expensive and complex undertaking, and worth it in the long run. The world not only would be forever spared an incurable, crippling and often fatal disease. It would also save a lot of money. If polio transmission could be stopped by 2015, the net benefit from reduced treatment costs and productivity gains through 2035 would be $40 billion to $50 billion, according to a 2010 study.
Thanks to the efforts of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative — which links national governments to the World Health Organization, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Unicef, Rotary International and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation — progress has been tremendous.
The coalition has adopted an emergency plan that prioritizes efforts in the three endemic countries. (Remarkably, India, which because of population density and poor sanitation was considered the greatest challenge, had zero new polio cases last year.) The idea is to stop the virus at the source and hope it doesn’t spread to places where vigilance has been lightened.