Polio wars

January 14, 2014 - 4:44:37 am

India’s success in eradicating polio shows that a healthy democracy can successfully bring about change as opposed to struggling nations. 


On both sides of the Radcliffe Line, wars have been waged against poliomyelitis, an affliction that leads to spinal and respiratory paralysis, which has killed thousands across the world. The Taliban has been fighting the anti-polio drive launched by Islamabad with help from World Health Organisation in Pakistan. On the other side of the border, India has finally won the war on the disease, which crippled thousands of children in the late 20th century. The country became eligible yesterday to be certified as having eradicated the killer disease after decades of striving. The gargantuan task was completed because of unwavering commitment by successive political dispensations aided by an unflinching bureaucracy and steely support of the World Health Organisation. 

The scourge of polio, however, has not left India’s immediate neighbour Pakistan. The anti-polio campaign narrative in the country of 180 million has got intertwined with the Taliban insurgency. The Taliban propaganda that the polio vaccination drive is a ploy by the West to sterilise the population sounds ludicrous. 

This is another instance of the militia trying to clutch on to desperate measures to be in the news. On the other hand, the failure of the Pakistani establishment to thwart the Islamist group’s designs is a colossal failure. The Middle East is not either free of the disease that mostly hits children. Syria is fighting a civil war with the government of President Bashar Al Assad trying to keep up a facade of normalcy. Fighting has prevented health workers from reaching about 100,000 Syrian children who were to be vaccinated in Raqqa. The planned drive is part of a nationwide campaign to vaccinate about 2 million children in the country, which has become a marquee of the Arab Spring revolts. The success of India in the war on polio is an embodiment of a healthy democracy working toward the development of its human resource. 

India has long been seen as an electoral democracy that has failed on several fronts, the most important being healthcare. 

The derailment of the country’s efforts to improve healthcare have been torn into by economists who find many lacunae in the path to development that it has chosen, one of them being widespread income inequality, which again acts as a countervailing force to improving healthcare. 

The eradication of polio from India presents a small but significant instance of how a sustained democratic polity can foster development. 

China and some other authoritarian countries were declared polio free much ahead of India. However, their success is tempered by the fact that it is relatively easy for totalitarian governments to carry out development plans — Beijing’s facile success with population control is the right example•