Polio Eradication Program in India

There is a place in India where the road ends. It isn’t even a proper road as the last six kilometers coming into the town are thick mud and if you are unlucky enough to have to travel in the rainy season you’d have to walk these last six as no jeep will take you there. Beyond this little town in Bihar lies the flooded area of the Kosi river and the only way onwards is by boat. Electricity is not a part of the services rendered to this small town and if you want the fan to work at night you must carry your own generator that will play its sweet music outside your door throughout the night. It is Kusheshwar Asthan East (yes, there is also a West) and it is the place where the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF had to open a satellite office as a part of the far-reach of the polio eradication campaign in India. If an office was not opened here the polio vaccine would never reach more than two hundred villages scattered on the flood plain of the Kosi river. Bihar is considered a high-risk state for polio eruption and it is here that the hardships faced by the volunteers of this incredible campaign are best seen.

Polio (also called poliomyelitis) is a contagious, historically devastating disease that was virtually eliminated from the Western hemisphere in the second half of the 20th century. Although polio has plagued humans since ancient times, its most extensive outbreak occurred in the first half of the 1900s before the vaccination created by Jonas Salk became widely available in 1955. The polio virus spreads from person to person, primarily via the fecal-oral route.

In a world of AIDS, malaria and other health crises, the eradication of polio would demonstrate that humankind can triumph over nature. The polio eradication campaign is the largest non-military, global enterprise in history. The size of the campaign in India is nothing less than amazing; 2.3 million vaccinators and 155,000 supervisors go house to house to 209 million houses and vaccinate 172 million kids under 5 years old twice a year during the national immunization day (NID). A sub-national immunization day (SNID) takes place up to eight times a year in high-risk areas like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar where more than 550,000 new babies are born every month. After sixteen years of the campaign in India, following an enhanced vaccination efforts led by the World Health Organization, UNICEF and Rotary International, India has finally been declared polio free on February 25th, 2011 with the last polio case dated January 13th, 2010.

The following images, commissioned by UNICEF, are a part of  the last documentation of the polio program in India. The images were exhibited in NYC and worldwide, and published in the book ‘Triumph Over Polio’.

Click on this line to see more images of the polio eradication campaign in Bihar from this assignment for UNICEF.
I first documented the polio eradication program in India  for the World Health Organization in 2004. Some of the color images from that assignment can be viewed HERE and on my archive HERE

Sephi Bergerson