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Posted at 06:00 AM ET, 01/12/2012

Polio focus leaves other diseases behind


Dr Pooja Kapoor (right) examines Soniya Singh, 18-month old baby girl suffering from fever and partial paralysis, for signs of polio as her mother looks on in Pootha, India. (Simon Denyer - THE WASHINGTON POST)
MEERUT, India — When 18-month-old baby girl Soniya Singh fell ill with a fever, and was paralyzed in her left arm and leg, a doctor soon rushed to her home in the northern Indian village of Pootha, examined her and arranged for a stool sample to be collected.

But Soniya’s stool will only be tested for the polio virus. Not for the many other deadly bacteria or viruses that could cause similar symptoms, or for disorders like Botulism or Guillain-Barre syndrome.If she is found to be free of polio, as she almost certainly will be, she will once again be on her own, her parents left to the mercy of expensive private doctors and local quacks, to establish what might be wrong with her and to offer a cure.

On Friday, India marks a year without a single case of polio, a major milestone in the global battle to eradicate the disease...It is a huge success story, but also a controversial one.

Critics have argued that the single-minded focus on polio by an army of volunteers and doctors employed by the campaign has taken resources and attention away from other, more pressing problems, like malaria, measles and maternal health. Villagers still find it hard to understand why polio gets so much attention when they can barely keep their children alive and fed.

Today, though, India has offered a strong riposte to that criticism. Its success at polio eradication not only provides a template for other countries still battling the disease, health workers involved in the campaign say, but a model for India itself to replicate, as it seeks to expand routine immunization coverage and tackle other killer diseases like measles.

Here, Indian actor Amitabh Bachchan congratulates India on the year free of polio:

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By  |  06:00 AM ET, 01/12/2012

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