India's health minister hails success in fight against polio

NEW DELHI (AFP) - India's Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azadon on Monday hailed the country's success in eradicating new cases of polio as a "monumental milestone".

India marked three years since its last reported polio case, meaning it will soon be declared as having defeated the ancient scourge in a huge advance for global eradication efforts.

"In 2009 India accounted for over half of the global polio burden and today is the historic day when we have completed three years without a single case of wild polio," the minister told reporters in the capital.

"This monumental milestone was possible due to unwavering political will at the highest level, commitment of adequate financial resources, technological innovation... and the tireless efforts of millions of workers including more than 23 lakh (2.3 million) vaccinators," he said.

The milestone confirms one of India's biggest public health success stories, achieving something once thought impossible, thanks to a massive and sustained vaccination programme.

Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan are the only three countries in the world where polio is still endemic.

Countries are certified by the World Health Organisation as being polio-free if they go 12 months without a case, and are then said to have eradicated it after a period of three years without new infections.

India will likely receive this endorsement in March.