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.