VELLORE: “I simply had to grab the opportunity,” was how former minister for health Dr H V Hande described while narrating how, as the then health minister, he was able to mobilise the state machinery to support the Rotary Club’s ‘Polio Plus’ initiative. He was speaking at a function organised here on Sunday by the local Rotary Club to honour him for his contribution in eradicating polio from the country.
The occasion was celebrating one year of Polio-free India and felicitating the pioneers of the Rotary movement who were responsible for achieving the feat. Hande, during his stint as health minister in Tamil Nadu during 1977-87, had provided full support of the government to the CMC-Rotary initiative while approving the new technology of pulse vaccination and five doses of Oral Polio vaccine per infant. The occasion also honoured Dr Jacob John, a retired virologist from CMC hospital, who was the technical backbone of the entire project right from its inception in 1980s till now and the past district governors of Rotary, Raja Ramakrishnan, S L Chitale, P V Purushothaman, late Chidambaram and Viswanatha Reddy who had planned, coordinated and executed the ‘Polio Plus’ project. which became a global benchmark in the past 30 years that had resulted in no fresh case of polio incidence in the country in the past one year.
“I’d have been a fool if I had missed the opportunity,” Hande remarked. The octogenarian recalled the various meetings he had with members of the Rotary club and Dr Jacob John who had explained about the seriousness of the issue and the need for extending the success of the Vellore model in polio vaccination across the state. “When I explained about the need for the project and how it would help children, the then chief minister MGR had no hesitation asking me to go ahead. But for him, it would not have reached this height,” he pointed out. Besides the political will, Tamil Nadu had the best health infrastructure to implement the project that could penetrate even remote villages, which was one of the secrets behind the success of the project. “Looking back, I think it was a big team work that had helped in freeing the country from the dreaded polio and I bow my head to the Rotary for their initiative,” he said.
Overwhelmed by nostalgic reminiscences, other stalwarts present on the occasion refused to take individual credit for the achievement and attributed the success to ‘team sweat’. The present health minister Dr VS Vijay, who could not take part in the event, sent his message of appreciation for the key role of Vellore in freeing India from polio. At the end, the Voorhees college hall, where the function was held, was reverberating with ‘Good bye Polio-Thanks CMC-Rotary.’