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Academy Award recognition for India’s fight to eradicate polio

NEW DELHI, 18 February 2009 -  The Final Inch, a film documenting the historic effort to eradicate polio in India, has been nominated for an Academy Award in the category of Best Documentary (Short Film). Winners will be announced in Los Angeles this Sunday.

The documentary film made by Vermilion Films and Google.org honours the work, spirit and resilience of the millions of frontline workers in the Indian polio eradication programme. The nomination comes at a critical time for the polio eradication programme, when the government of India inches closer to eradicating the disease. Transmission of the virus has been confined to only two northern states – Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Type 2 poliovirus has already been eradicated in India. What is required now is to continue the relentless efforts to stop the most virulent type 1 polio virus, which is very near elimination, by 2009. This achievement will bring the programme closer than the “final inch” to Polio eradication in India.

In endemic states of U.P. and Bihar, more than 465,000 health workers go door-to-door every six to eight weeks vaccinating over 58 million children under five, overcoming physical, logistical and sometimes cultural barriers to ensure every child takes the oral polio vaccine. The film celebrates this extraordinary human effort that makes up one of the “world’s largest, non-military armies” in history.  

 “We have a very narrow window of opportunity to eradicate polio from India because of climate change," said Dr. Larry Brilliant, Executive Director of Google.org. "If we miss it now and sea levels rise and water borne diseases increase, we will never have another chance to rid Asia of this terrible disease. I worked in the smallpox and polio eradication programs at the World Health Organization before coming to Google.

We at Google.org made this film because we wanted to make sure all partners continue to unite together for this final battle in India's war against polio."

“Polio eradication is the largest public health programme in India, with very strong community support behind it,” said Dr. Sunil Khaparde from the Ministry of Health. “This massive mobilization of the state machinery is a demonstration of the nation’s commitment to eradicate this terrible disease from India.”

The Final Inch was shot in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Maharashtra and documents the many facets of the polio eradication programme there, including the government’s extensive mobilization efforts to tackle the virus amidst extremely challenging conditions. “The effort that has gone into the polio eradication initiative has been colossal. Everyone in the community is involved in a polio round, from school children all the way up to the highest levels of state government,”says Deepak Kapur, India Polio Plus Chairman of Rotary International which has leveraged millions of dollars and international commitment in support of the Polio Programme. “We will continue our intense mobilization to ensure that resources and the will of the world remain available to eradicate polio in India.”

The story told in The Final Inch is as much about the importance of the messengers as it is about the message itself. The movie follows Munzareen Fatima, a dedicated and passionate community mobilizer who works with the UNICEF-led Social Mobilization Network. Munzareen’s tenacious house-to-house visits demonstrate the communication hurdles these workers must overcome to ensure every child under five receives the oral polio vaccine each round. “The community mobilizers are at the heart of the communication effort for polio. Without them the eradication of polio simply will not happen. They are from the local communities and they work tirelessly to make sure every family knows the importance of vaccinating their child every round," says Lieven Desomer, UNICEF’s Chief of Polio. 

Highlighted in the film in addition to Munzareen Fatima are Rotary volunteers preparing to mobilize children to the Polio Booth and Dr. Ashfaq Bhat from WHO’s National Polio Surveillance Project, who travels into the backwaters of India's Ganges Basin in Bihar by boat and foot to detect cases of polio and monitor the quality of the vaccination campaign.

“This illustrates the dedication of the tremendous workforce that is working to vaccinate every child in the most tenacious polio reservoirs of U.P. and Bihar,”says Dr. Hamid Jafari, Project Manager of the WHO's National Polio Surveillance Project in India. “These heroes are not only writing history, they are paving the way for other endemic countries – Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Nigeria - to succeed.”

Today, the Indian Polio Eradication programme is one of the largest and most successful public health initiatives in history. The Polio Partnership, which consists of Rotary International, WHO, UNICEF, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, has been partnering with the Government of India since the inception of the programme and applauds “The Final Inch” to record this sterling endeavour.

Filmed in a high-definition cinematic style, The Final Inch captures the stories of the campaign’s frontline workers and serves as a tribute and an inspiration of hope that polio can and will be eradicated in India.

The Final Inch will air in the U.S. on HBO on World Health Day, April 7th 2009.
Please visit: http://www.thefinalinch.org/ to view clips from the film.

For more information, and interviews, please contact:

Angela Walker, Chief of Communication, UNICEF India
Tel: +91-98-1810-6093, E-mail: awalker@unicef.org

Shamila Sharma, Communication Focal person, WHO, National Polio Surveillance Project
Tel : +91-98-1859-5937, Email : sharmasha@npsuindia.org

Sherine Guirguis, Programme Communication Specialist, UNICEF India
Tel: +91-99-7117-1065; E-mail: sguirguis@unicef.org





Watch a clip from the Oscar-nominated documentary, 'The Final Inch'.
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19 February 2009:
UNICEF Health Communication Specialist Jeffrey Bates discusses polio eradication efforts in India.
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