The World Health Organisation (WHO) stipulates that three years must pass without any cases of polio occurring before a region can be declared polio-free.
Moradabad, which only recently had 60-80 cases a year, is expected to qualify in 2012.
“This will be a wonderful thing – for us, for India, for the people of Moradabad,” said Dr Mohammed Arif, a public health specialist and organiser of anti-polio campaigns in the area.
There is a bigger national milestone on the horizon. If in India as a whole there are no more confirmed cases before 13 January, the country will have completed its first year without a new victim.
And if polio is gone from India, the only countries where the disease is still endemic would be Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
India’s likely achievement would be a big step towards the eradication of a global disease – the second after smallpox, which was officially defeated worldwide in 1979.
“That would really be something to be happy about,” said Arif.
It would also be a boost to a global effort which has been flagging in recent years, with key milestones repeatedly missed.
Last year, Sir Liam Donaldson, the UK’s former chief medical officer who now chairs the independent monitoring board of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, said the final success of the eradication campaign, which has seen cases reduced by 99% in 20 years, was “on a knife-edge”. In some places, particularly sub-Saharan Africa, polio has even made a comeback.
In India, a mass vaccination campaign involving more than a million volunteers reduced cases nationally by 94% between 2009 and 2010, from 741 to 42, and down to the single case last year.
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 of local government.
Equally important in overcoming the last bastions of the disease, as in many parts of the world, has been the consent of local religious figures.