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India, 10 other nations now free of polio

AFP-JIJI

The World Health Organization on Thursday officially certified India and 10 other Asian countries free of polio, a milestone lauded as a “momentous victory” over an ancient scourge.

The Southeast Asian region, which includes India but excludes Afghanistan and Pakistan, was certified by a panel of experts after the countries went three years without reporting a single new case.

The WHO said the certification means 80 percent of the world’s population live in polio-free regions and is an important step toward eradication of the crippling disease.

There are only three countries where polio is still endemic: Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria. However, isolated outbreaks in the Horn of Africa and Syria emerged as new causes for concern in 2013, and polio vaccination workers in Pakistan are still being killed by the Taliban.

The certification is particularly significant in India, home to 1.2 billion people, which until 2009 still accounted for half of all cases globally.

The countries certified Thursday were India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, South Korea, Indonesia, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand and East Timor.