From an interview with Esha Chhabra
Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting
January 13, 2014
Q. How would you explain the significance of this campaign on a larger scale for the global health community?
A. The success of India, the fact that India can do it [eradicate polio] against all odds and expectations, is a phenomenal achievement. Now, the lessons from India can be transferred. And it proves that it can be done elsewhere. For instance, Pakistan has a similar mindset amongst the civil society and similar conditions, so they can learn very profitably from the Indian experience.
People used to fret that India would be the last country to do it. Even the global experts felt that India may not be able to do it given the huge population, poor sanitation, impure drinking water, malnutrition and presence of disease. It made it the most fertile ground for the virus to breed in.
Q. What was the game changer in your opinion?
A. There were a couple of things that were significant:
One, engaging the Muslim clerics, the ulema, by bringing them under one umbrella given that most of them don’t talk to each other. But we brought them together under the Rotary Muslim Ulema Committee, and that melted away the resistance by Muslim households.
Two, the introduction of the bivalent vaccine — the two strains of polio, P1 and P3, could be addressed with just one vaccine.
Three, the whistle-blowing by Rotarians. They went to the chief minister in U.P. [Uttar Pradesh] and the political authorities in Bihar and said they had to place more emphasis on the polio vaccinations. They were very receptive, which was very unexpected. The authorities took action quickly, and that helped immensely.
Q. How can this infrastructure be used for other public health campaigns?
A. It’s already begun. The National Polio Surveillance Committee and W.H.O. are utilizing the infrastructure to improve routine immunizations. We are asking all Rotarians in India to focus on routine immunizations and alongside polio, focus on promoting other diseases.
The polio model will be in vogue towards the end of this decade for a host of other diseases and social needs.