Three-year-old Ruksa Khatun is a typical toddler in many ways. She’s new to walking, and stumbles when she tries.
But Khatun’s struggle unique. After contracting the wild polio virus last year, her right leg is shorter than her left, causing acute pain. She is India’s last person to have the disease and she needs surgery to save her leg, the Times of India reports.
"The world has its fingers crossed that Ruksa will be India's last-ever case of polio. The polio drive, however, must continue despite all challenges," Ramesh Ferris, a polio survivor and activist, told the Times after meeting the toddler and her family.
On Jan. 12, India celebrated two years of being polio-free -- a major accomplishment for a country that saw 350,000 deaths from the disease in 1988, Time Magazine reports.
Polio, a debilitating infectious disease, can cause irreversible paralysis and sometimes death. Today, the disease strikes children under the age of five in Asia and Africa, according to Rotary International. Without a cure, vaccinations against the virus are the best form of protection, the leading charity reports.
The oral vaccine was introduced in India in 1978, but it was only in 1994 when a mass vaccination campaign began in New Delhi, followed by a concentrated effort in the country’s poorer regions in 1999, did India make major strides to eliminate the disease, according to Time Magazine.
Despite the tremendous progress, the disease can still return via neighboring countries that are still struggling to control the spread of the disease, Deepak Kapur, Chairman, Rotary's India National PolioPlus Committee told the Times of India. Not only that, religious beliefs have caused some Indian parents to stop their children from getting immunized, according to the news outlet.
Rotary International has been a major mover in stamping out polio in India and around the world.
In India, it's reached out to regional religious leaders and formed a dialogue to dispel any myths surrounding polio vaccination, Ashok Mahajan, a member of the Rotary Club of Mulund, Maharashtra, and Trustee of The Rotary Foundation of Rotary International writes in the New York Times.
Mahajan believes Rotary's approach in India can help eliminate the disease in neighboring Pakistan that reported 58 cases in 2012.
"I regret not getting my child vaccinated. Now, I tell other people not to make the same mistake," Shah Khatun, Ruska’s father, told IBNLive.
To support the effort, his daughter’s image has been shared across the region to encourage parents to vaccinate their children, according to the Hindu.
Volunteers on the ground in India have seen progress.
“A year ago there were about 30 families in the locality that refused to allow their children to be immunised. At present there are only three families that continue to resist,” Sheik Amin-ud-din, a UNICEF volunteer told the news outlet.
Polio activist, Ramesh Ferris, believes the country must remain vigilant and continue to watch for new cases. “We’re not out of the woods yet,” he told Time Magazine.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story stated there were 218 cases of polio reported in Pakistan in 2012. The story also previously named Rotary International as Rotary Club International.