The World Health Organization (WHO) has announced for the first time that South-East Asia is now free from polio. The WHO certified 11 countries as being clear of the disease. The WHO website said: "This is the fourth of six WHO regions to be certified, marking an important step towards global eradication of polio – a highly infectious virus that attacks the nervous system and can cause total paralysis in a matter of hours. With this step, 80 per cent of the world's population now lives in certified polio-free regions." One of the newly-certified countries is India, which as recently as 2009, was home to almost 50 per cent of the world's polio cases. India hasn't seen a single polio case for the last three years.
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Polio is currently an incurable disease. It leads to paralysis of the limbs and can kill anyone who contracts it. Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, regional director for the WHO, said: "This is a momentous victory for the millions of health workers who have worked with governments, non-governmental organizations, civil society and international partners to eradicate polio from the region." She added: "It is a sign of what we can bequeath our children when we work together." Dr Singh also cautioned against becoming complacent in the fight against the disease. She said: "Until polio is globally eradicated, all countries are at risk and the region's polio-free status remains fragile."