How about some good news to start the year off? Thomas is walking, talking a little bit – “dog” “clock” “car” “Mum” (for both me and Shannon!) and the so far undecipherable “g’den”. He also has discovered in the last couple of weeks that he loves the beach! Let’s hope we get some more good weather so that he can spend some more days there in the future.

From further afield, and on a slightly larger scale, there is more good news to warm the cockles of your hearts. (A particularly useful thing for our North American readers at the moment.) India can be declared Polio free since there has not been a reported case in that country since 13 January 2011.  The World Health Organisation, which will officially declare India Polio-free by the end of March, is giving much of the credit to itself and to the Indian government:

“‘We give huge credit to the government … It makes us extremely proud and highly responsible for having helped the government to reach this incredible achievement,’ India’s World Health Organisation representative, Nata Menabde, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.”

What makes this achievement even more remarkable is that India was once considered the most difficult country to eradicate the disease from.  However, a truly monumental effort managed to overcome the difficulties:

“A mass vaccination campaign involving more than one million volunteers reduced the number of cases nationally by 94% between 2009 and 2010, from 741 to 42, and down to the single case in 2011. Volunteers targeted migrant families at bus and train stations, construction sites and festivals. Some used motorcycles or trekked on foot to reach remote villages.

The success is due to a combination of highly motivated local workers, philanthropy, the involvement of international health bodies and the sometimes inefficient, but nonetheless essential, support from local government.”

What has also been essential has been the cooperation of religious leaders:

“Over the past decade, one of the biggest obstacles to polio eradication in India, as in Pakistan and Nigeria, has been the resistance of poor, largely illiterate Muslim communities. When the first campaigns began in the 1990s, some local clerics in India told congregations that the vaccinations were part of a government plan, backed by the west, to make Muslim women infertile.”

Now why on Earth would they think that? Could they be erroneously reflecting the priorities of western aid agencies like Gates Foundation? Or could it be that India has form in the area of forced sterilisations? Whatever the reason for the concern, the fears of the Muslim communities were quieted:

“By involving religious and community leaders, Indian authorities helped to build support for vaccination among local families. Announcements by local imams in mosques persuaded parents to accept the polio vaccine where they otherwise may have resisted.”

Once India is polio-free, the only countries left in the world where polio is endemic will be Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan.  If polio is eradicated in those countries, then it will be the second disease globally eliminated after smallpox was officially defeated worldwide in 1979. 

The limitation of the spread of diseases worldwide and the eradication of many from many countries throughout the world has been one of the unmitigated success stories of the twentieth century.  The related decline in mortality rate was one of the reasons why the global population increased so quickly in the last 100 years or so.  Whether our fight against infectious diseases will continue to be successful in the future is less certain. And if mortality rates from new or resistant diseases start to rise, what will that do to many countries anaemic population growth? These may be troubling questions for the future, but let us enjoy the good news from India for now.

Marcus Roberts is a Senior Researcher at the Maxim Institute in Auckland, New Zealand, and was co-editor of the former MercatorNet blog, Demography is Destiny. Marcus has a background in the law, both...