In January 2014 it was reported that India had become polio free, marking three years since its last reported case. This is a major success not only for India but also for global eradication efforts. The World Health Organisation (WHO) launched the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) in 1988, when the poliovirus was endemic in 125 countries and when approximately 350,000 people were paralysed each year due to the disease. The Gates Foundation has been a key player in supporting the WHO initiative and in pushing forward global eradication efforts. Since GPEI began, it has saved about 10 million children from paralysis, and now there are only three countries where polio remains endemic: Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan. The success of GPEI is evident in these numbers, and the route to this success is interesting in relation to other global development efforts. But in the three remaining endemic countries, there is a political and social battle being fought through polio eradication efforts: Vaccination workers are being attacked by Islamic militants who oppose the Westernisation of their countries.
By Kate O Donnell