Skip to main content

Why I'm celebrating India today

By Freida Pinto
March 27, 2014 -- Updated 1516 GMT (2316 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Freida Pinto: World Health Organization on Thursday is proclaiming India to be polio free
  • India had half the world's new cases in 2009, and 200,000 in the 1980s
  • Pinto: Experts doubted success because of population, poor health care and access
  • Pinto: Committed people, volunteers, communities and cooperation bring real change

Editor's note: Freida Pinto, an actress and model, starred in the film "Slumdog Millionaire." She serves as Global Brand Ambassador of Plan International's "Because I am a Girl" campaign.

(CNN) -- I was born in Mumbai, India -- a beautiful country rich in culture and landscape. But for all its wonder and charm, India is also a country where from 150,000 to 200,000 people were afflicted by polio in the mid-1980s and, even as recently as 2009, was home to nearly half the world's new polio cases.

Polio is a debilitating disease. It attacks the nervous system and can lead to partial or full paralysis for life, and in some cases, even death.

Freida Pinto
Freida Pinto

But, the great news is that today, India and Southeast Asia were officially certified by the World Health Organization as being polio-free -- a momentous achievement for global public health and the worldwide effort to eradicate polio.

India beats the odds and beats polio

But this extraordinary feat wasn't easy.

Most experts believed that India, with its high population density, poor health care services and regional accessibility problems, would remain the most polio-endemic region in the world. But India hasn't reported a new case since early 2011, which led WHO Director-General Margaret Chan to say: "India has shown the world that there is no such thing as impossible. This is likely the greatest lesson and the greatest inspiration for the rest of the world."

I, too, believe this is the greatest inspiration for the world.

This victory -- like the eradication of smallpox -- is one of the most amazing achievements in global health. And I'm humbled to support and commend my country -- and the communities, families and workers on the ground -- for without them, this would not be possible. Their bravery, grace and conviction to end polio once and for all is something of great strength and admiration.

An child receives polio vaccination drops from a medical volunteer in Amritsar, India, on January 19.
An child receives polio vaccination drops from a medical volunteer in Amritsar, India, on January 19.

Great achievements don't just happen; they require the great efforts of many.

The polio eradication movement, started in 1988, was a joint effort between the Indian government; WHO; Rotary International; the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; UNICEF and various other NGOs; the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and about 2 million workers who vaccinated nearly 170 million throughout the country to finally wipe out the disease. Truly, this worldwide effort should serve as a reminder that when the global community bands together to solve an issue, great things can be achieved. And today should serve as a call to not simply continue the efforts but to exponentially increase them.

The tireless work and the steadfast determination of so many around the world has brought us to this monumental milestone today, because with committed people, volunteers, communities and cooperation comes real change.

Just last year, I joined the Global Poverty Project at the annual Global Citizen Festival on the Great Lawn at Central Park in New York to advocate for an end to extreme poverty by 2030. Chief among the priorities was a focus on health, vaccines and immunizations. And on that day, looking out at the sea of 60,000 Global Citizens advocating for change and an end to polio by 2018, I knew the end was possible.

So, smile as we celebrate a polio-free India -- a significant public health achievement that will leave a lasting impact on children's health in India and around the world. This can inspire the global community to take on other diseases as well.

A polio-free India is not a polio-free world, and we must remain vigilant to ensure every child around the globe receives the vaccine until we achieve a world free of polio. The global health community is still more than $1 billion short on funding for vaccinations -- and while the United States, Canada and others have led the way -- other countries such as Australia need to reaffirm their support.

Only three nations have yet to eradicate the crippling disease: Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan. As we declare India polio-free, we can call on countries and governments around the globe to follow this tremendous example and make the world free of polio by 2018.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Freida Pinto.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1305 GMT (2105 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1149 GMT (1949 HKT)
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
September 15, 2014 -- Updated 1723 GMT (0123 HKT)
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
September 15, 2014 -- Updated 1938 GMT (0338 HKT)
SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 04: NFL commissioner Roger Goodell walks the sidelines prior to the game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers at CenturyLink Field on September 4, 2014 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Martha Pease says the NFL commissioner shouldn't be judge and jury on player wrongdoing.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1315 GMT (2115 HKT)
It's time for a much needed public reckoning over U.S. use of torture, argues Donald P. Gregg.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1225 GMT (2025 HKT)
Peter Bergen says UK officials know the identity of the man who killed U.S. journalists and a British aid worker.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1128 GMT (1928 HKT)
Joe Torre and Esta Soler say much has been achieved since a landmark anti-violence law was passed.
September 12, 2014 -- Updated 2055 GMT (0455 HKT)
David Wheeler wonders: If Scotland votes to secede, can America take its place and rejoin England?
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1241 GMT (2041 HKT)
Jane Stoever: Society must grapple with a culture in which 1 in 3 teen girls and women suffer partner violence.
September 12, 2014 -- Updated 2036 GMT (0436 HKT)
World-famous physicist Stephen Hawking recently said the world as we know it could be obliterated instantaneously. Meg Urry says fear not.
September 12, 2014 -- Updated 2211 GMT (0611 HKT)
Bill Clinton's speech accepting the Democratic nomination for president in 1992 went through 22 drafts. But he always insisted on including a call to service.
September 12, 2014 -- Updated 2218 GMT (0618 HKT)
Joe Amon asks: What turns a few cases of disease into thousands?
September 11, 2014 -- Updated 1721 GMT (0121 HKT)
Sally Kohn says bombing ISIS will worsen instability in Iraq and strengthen radical ideology in terrorist groups.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 2231 GMT (0631 HKT)
Analysts weigh in on the president's plans for addressing the threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
September 11, 2014 -- Updated 1327 GMT (2127 HKT)
Artist Prune Nourry's project reinterprets the terracotta warriors in an exhibition about gender preference in China.
September 10, 2014 -- Updated 1336 GMT (2136 HKT)
The Apple Watch is on its way. Jeff Yang asks: Are we ready to embrace wearables technology at last?
ADVERTISEMENT