TIME Asia

Southeast Asia Declared Free of Polio

The world's second most-populous nation, as well as the whole of southeast Asia, has been officially certified as free of the disease

The World Health Organization will certify India as free of polio on Thursday, after the country went three years without an endemic case of the disease.

The WHO’s Regional Certification Commission is also certifying southeast Asia as polio-free, the commission said Thursday. The commission praised India and southeast Asian countries for their public health efforts.

“South-East Asia’s remarkable achievement in ending polio was made possible by unprecedented commitment from governments to hold high-quality vaccination campaigns that reached a cumulative total of 7.5 billion children over 17 years, in every home from the busiest city street to the remotest rural corner, with the dedication of millions of community health workers and volunteers,” the commission said in a statement.

As recently as 2009, India was home to almost 50 percent of the world’s polio cases. The disease, which can lead to paralysis of the limbs and eventual death and has no cure, was considered particularly hard to eradicate from India due to the country’s high-density population and poor sanitation in many areas. But health workers were able to home in on groups particularly vulnerable to the disease, such as the children of migrants, and make sure they were vaccinated. The Indian government, United Nations organizations, celebrities and religious leaders also helped to launch outreach efforts and combat misconceptions about the disease. As a result, India’s last polio case was reported in a two-year-old girl in west Bengal in 2011.

“Ending polio in these countries forged strong systems that are now being used to advance other health priorities,” the commission said.

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