Last month India celebrated a milestone for the nation's public health. In the past three years there has not had a single case of Polio, finally making the country officially polio-free. This is a landmark achievement both for the Indian government and the millions community volunteers who have promoted the benefits of vaccinations and dispelled scaremongering. The same though, cannot be said for preventable diseases both across West and in Africa. In recent years, there has been a stark increase in preventable disease outbreaks due to a fear of vaccinations and inept responses from national governments. The Council on Foreign Relations has released a damning report and interactive map demonstrating the rise in preventable diseases.
When the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were first drawn and signed by 191 member states, they did not seem insurmountable with fifteen years to achieve their stated objectives. Now, with the deadline soon approaching, it is looking far more unlikely that any politician or leader will be able to claim that the MDGs have been a complete triumph. There have been notable successes with the HIV/AIDs cases declining and the number of people with HIV receiving treatment having increased 10 fold since 2002. However, for other diseases the same cannot be said.
NGOs and volunteers are still reeling from the effects of spurious articles from the discredited British physician, Andrew Wakefield, who in 1998 published a paper in The Lancet, the British Medical Journal, which falsely linked the Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine with the appearance of autism in children. It was later discovered that Wakefield had entirely fabricated his research and no such link had ever existed. But this has not stopped fear-mongers, including the high-profile actress Jenny McCarthy, who still trumpet Wakefield's fictitious research.
For each new person promoting falsehoods about vaccines - the MDGs become that much harder to accomplish. In India, a country known for its political dysfunction, it has achieved extraordinary success by setting clear policy goals with adequate levels of funding and clear lines of responsibility. Last year, in the span of only five days, 172 million children were administered the polio vaccine. Political leaders and NGOs alike should take note of India's success and pave their own way to eradicate preventable diseases - engaging directly with the vaccine skeptics. As Deepak Kapur, Chairman of India National PolioPlus Committee stated to The New York Times: "The success of India, the fact that India can do it against all odds and expectations, is a phenomenal achievement. Now, the lessons from India can be transferred. And it proves that it can be done elsewhere." It's time to follow India's lead and reassert that these diseases are preventable, both in practice, and not just in theory.