DR. HARSH VARDHAN’S PIONEERING ROLE IN MAKING INDIA POLIO-FREE

November 29, 2013
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For my wife Kamla as well as for me, this month has a special significance; the birthdays of both of us fall in November. Kamla’s is on 27th, and mine is on 8th. This year, my daughter Pratibha suggested that the family celebrate the two birthdays on Sunday November 24th and invite friends for a Musical programme, followed by lunch. Most of those who attended personally told me that Pratibha’s planning of the entire programme, the décor, food etc was really superb.

 

Going through the books some friends presented to me this day, I have been greatly impressed by a book about India, published and edited by a renowned global management concern, McKinsey & Company. The title of this book is: Reimagining India: Unlocking the potential of Asia’s next Super power.

 

The front flap of the cover introduces the book as one that “brings together leading thinkers from around the world to explore the challenges and opportunities faced by one of the most important and least understood nations on earth”.

 

This book, the introduction continues, “features an all star cast of contributors including CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, Mukesh Ambani, CEO of India’s largest private conglomerate; Microsoft founder Bill Gates; Google Chairman Eric Schmidt; award winning authors: Suketu Mehta, Edward Luce, and Patrick French; Nandan Nilekani, Infosys Cofounder, and chairman of the Unique Identification Authority of India” and a host of other experts in variegated fields.

 

Of the contributors mentioned in this brief introduction, I immediately glanced at the contents to see what had Bill Gates written in the context of India. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the article listed against his name was “What I learned in the war (on polio)”.

 

Only last night I have received from Dr. Harsh Vardhan, BJP’s Chief Ministerial nominee for the Delhi Assembly elections a book written by him about a decade back.

 

On the opening page of this book, Dr. Harsh Vardhan has graciously inscribed “Thanks Respected Advaniji, you made it possible for me in 1994.  Today, we are a polio-free nation for last three years.”   

Harsh

27.11.2013

 

The article by Bill Gates which is the core theme of my blog today says that “India’s accomplishment in eradicating polio is the most impressive global health success I’ve ever seen.”

 

When in 2004, Dr. Vardhan wrote this book titled A Tale of Two Drops he had asked me to write a Foreword for the book. The first two paragraphs of the three-page foreword I wrote for him would highlight why I strongly commended to the party that he be named the BJP’s Chief Ministerial candidate.  In my Foreword, I said :

 

Ten years back, in 1994, I came in close contact with Dr. Harsh Vardhan, the author of this book and, in a way, a principal pioneer of the national campaign for a polio-free India. He had just been appointed Health Minister of the Union Territory of Delhi, and simultaneously elected president of the Delhi Medical Association. In my very early meetings with Dr. Harsh Vardhan, he enlightened me about the World Health Organisation’s efforts to eradicate polio globally and how they had succeeded in countries like Brazil and Philippines. He told me that he had studied the entire WHO literature about the ‘Pulse Polio Campaign’, and that he was confident that the country’s capital, which was among the worst afflicted areas in India, could be rid of this scourge.

  

“I would like to compliment Dr. Harsh Vardhan heartily for his remarkable achievement. He started the campaign in Delhi and soon it emerged as a nationwide mission. Indeed, the pulse polio drive became the largest mass campaign, with exemplary public-private partnership, for the cause of making India a healthy society. I am happy that he has penned his experiences in the form of this book.”

 

In his article, Bill Gates says that while flying into Bangalore, as we “made our final approach, I looked out of the window and saw an area of densely packed, tiny, dilapidated homes stretching out for miles”. An Indian accompanying him proudly said “We have no slums in Bangalore”.

 

Bill Gates perceptively comments: “Whether out of denial, embarrassment, or innocence, my colleague didn’t see the other India. I don’t mean to single him out. It can be easy to turn our eyes away from the poor.  But if we do, we miss seeing a society’s full potential.

 

The article adds very rightly :

 

“I knew at the time that I was very fortunate to be collaborating with the most privileged people of India – highly educated citizens of great intelligence, diligence, and imagination. But when Melinda and I started our foundation’s work in India, we began to meet people from the areas we’d been flying over. They had little education and poor health, and lived in slums or poor rural areas – the kind of people many experts had told us were holding India back. Yet our experience in India suggests the opposite: that what some call a weakness can instead be a source of great strength.”

 

Yet another compliment paid by Bill Gates to our country is his observation: That India fully funded its own anti-polio plan is a ringing statement of commitment and self-confidence.

 

 Summing up his evaluation of the campaign, Bill Gates concludes his article thus;

 

“The campaign showed India at its best―the relentless spirit, the scientific power, the business acumen, the manufacturing skill, the political imagination, and the vast human resources that can deploy more than two million people and spark the imagination of a billion. Yes, India faces challenges in many areas that are well documented in the media. But in its fight against polio, India has shown the world that when its people set an ambitious goal, mobilize the country, and measure the impact, India’s promise is endless.”

 

I feel happy and proud to find that in making India polio free, the BJP, and Dr. Vardhan personally, have played a vital and distinctive role.

 

Little wonder that Dr. Harsh Vardhan has been awarded numerous International and national Awards for his remarkable contribution in this field. He has been recipient of International Award by the Director General of World Health Organisation, Polio Eradication Champion Award by Rotary Foundation, International Service Award by Lions Club, Paul Harris Fellowship of Rotary International, Indian Medical Association Special Appreciation Award (Twice).

 

At a Rotary function held in 2001 to felicitate Dr. Harsh Vardhan, Shri A.B. Vajpayee described him as DR. SWASTHYA VARDHAN! Yet another Prime Minister who warmly complimented Dr. Harsh Vardhan for his performance was Shri I.K. Gujral. He described him as the best Health Minister Delhi has had. 

 

L.K. Advani

New Delhi

29 Nov, 2013

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