Intended for healthcare professionals

Feature Infectious disease

India, Pakistan, and polio

BMJ 2016; 353 doi: (Published 04 May 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;353:i2417
  1. Martina Merten,
  2. freelance healthcare journalist
  1. Berlin
  1. info{at}

India’s polio free status could be undermined by the failure to eradicate the disease in neighbouring Pakistan, writes Martina Merten

On 20 April, seven policemen—including three who were guarding polio workers—were shot dead in Karachi. In January, a bomb at a polio vaccination centre in the Pakistani city of Quetta killed 15 people in yet another attack on vaccinators in the country. The disease is still endemic in Pakistan and intimidation of health workers and parents hinders attempts to eradicate it.

India, however, once one of the countries worst affected by polio, has managed to make the impossible possible: the last child was diagnosed with the virus five years ago.

Dedicated department

St Stephen’s Hospital in Delhi is the only hospital in the subcontinent that has its own department dedicated to patients with polio. A 26 year old lies on a bed. Sachitannand’s legs are as thin as his forearms, and only his knees are any wider. His feet point diametrically away from his body.

Sachitannand is among the 200 000 people in India who became infected with poliomyelitis every year during the late 1980s.1 Then, every day around 1000 children contracted infantile paralysis. After several operations, …

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