On 12 January 2012, India celebrated being polio-free for 12 months. It's an incredible achievement; a country that was once the epicentre of the world's polio epidemic is now leading the fight to eliminate this crippling disease.
India is home to some of the richest people in the
world, but also many of the poorest. India is a rich country with a rapidly growing economy and a democratic government, so why shouldn't it sort out its own problems? Why does the United Kingdom send millions of pounds in aid through charities such as UNICEF, and our government's budget on foreign aid?
It's an enormous, diverse country with massive, long-standing problems. But considering it's only been independent for 50 years ago, India is taking important steps towards realising human rights and development.
Did you know that India actually pays for its own vaccinations?
India has the money. What it doesn’t have, is the ability to reach marginalised people. People who are completely disconnected from the government, who don’t pay taxes and have never received public healthcare. People who constantly move, and people isolated in tiny villages on rivers and on mountain tops.
This is where UNICEF comes in.
Children get polio drops at the Islamia School polio booth in Bada Bazaar area of Mainpuri © UNICEF/INDA2010-00463/Gurinder Osan
UNICEF advises on how to reach these people, with the goal of getting to every last child.
Our colleagues in India are developing a strategy for reaching the most vulnerable and marginalised people through social mobilisation. UNICEF is unique in that we work with the Indian government, providing experience and knowledge, support and guidance to help create an independent Indian vaccination system.
Here's what UNICEF is doing to eradicate polio:
- The cold chain: vaccinations are useless unless they're kept cold. They're transported by any means necessary: train, plane, bus, boat, horse or (in some cases) camel. UNICEF provides life-saving vaccinations for over half of the world's children, including those in some of the most remote locations, thanks to this rigorous system of storage, inventories, training and portable mini-freezers. Learn more about the cold chain.
- Ideas and expertise: it was a UNICEF idea to vaccinate children at border crossings to ensure children from nomadic families didn't get left out. And when some families refused the vaccine because they didn't understand the need, it was a UNICEF idea to station Indian and Nepalese health workers together, resulting in a massive increase of both Indian and Nepalese families accepting vaccinations.
UNICEF gets the vaccination message across via networks of influential local people, who in turn find and educate other local people. It's vital to establish who the trusted individuals are, as these are the people that parents will listen to. In some cases UNICEF will train a religious leader or a teacher to help get the message across. In one community, the Thumla Village near the state of Uttar Pradesh, families refused the vaccinations until UNICEF hired a Muslim female health worker.
A team of immunisation workers walk past a boy disabled by polio in Thamla Village, Uttar Pradesh State. © UNICEF/NYHQ2006-2651/Tom Pietrasik
Find out more
Put your questions to our global immunisation specialist via Twitter using #ColdChain. He'll be answering them live this Thursday.
Learn more about UNICEF's immunisation work
See our interactive map of a cold chain journey in India
Shalini Rawlley works in UNICEF UK's High Profile Supporters team