Fifty years after the development of the polio vaccine in the United States, the potentially crippling polio virus still finds refuge in some of the world's most vulnerable places, poised to re-emerge and re-infect regions where it was stamped out decades ago. The first line of defense against such a nightmarish occurrence is a vast army of health workers who go door-to-door in some of India's poorest neighborhoods, ensuring every child is vaccinated. Their mission: to eradicate polio from the planet forever.
Produced in association with Google.org, The Final Inch is Emmy®-winning filmmaker Irene Taylor Brodsky's inspiring homage to these heroic foot soldiers as they go about this massive yet profoundly personal undertaking.
The Final Inch honors the extraordinary work, spirit and resilience of the millions of frontline workers in the Indian polio eradication program, which constitutes one of the "world's largest, non-military armies" in history. In the states of U.P. and Bihar, more than 465,000 health workers go door-to-door every six to eight weeks, vaccinating more than 58 million children under age five, overcoming physical, logistical and sometimes cultural barriers to ensure every child takes the oral polio vaccine.
"We have a very narrow window of opportunity to eradicate polio from India," says Dr. Larry Brilliant, Chief Philanthropy Evangelist, Google.org. "If we miss it now, we will never have another chance to rid the world of this debilitating disease. The Google Foundation 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."
The Final Inch spotlights people like Munzareen, a burka-clad UNICEF worker who visits more than 400 homes each month in enclaves in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, which has the world's highest concentration of polio infection. Also featured is Indian doctor Ashfaq Bhat, a World Health Organization (WHO) field lieutenant in the fight against polio, who risks life and limb to lead teams of volunteers to remote communities in the Bihar state.
The Final Inch recalls the devastating polio epidemics in the United States of the 1930s and 1950s through the deeply moving memories of survivors such as Martha Mason. She came down with the virus in 1947, three days after her older brother died of polio, and has spent the past 60 years living in a full-body medical ventilator, or "iron lung." Mikail Davenport, another survivor, made the 950-mile journey across his native Texas on his handcycle to raise awareness of the disease.
"Even though polio has been eradicated per se in the United States, there's no reason it can't cross the border from Canada or Mexico or come in with someone from another country," Davenport says. "And all it takes is one carrier and it starts all over again."
Lack of awareness is just one of many obstacles volunteers face. In addition to the sheer number of children in India and their geographical dispersal across an often- inhospitable landscape, some Muslim families refuse the free vaccine (two drops taken orally) as a form of social protest against a system that deprives them of basic services such as clean water and sanitation. Other families resist on grounds that the vaccine is American-made and therefore not to be trusted. Despite the scale of the anti-polio offensive - some four million people are currently working to eradicate the disease in India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan - personal issues such as trust may determine its ultimate success or failure.
Irene Taylor Brodsky is an Emmy® award-winning producer, director, writer and cinematographer. Her first feature-length film, the HBO documentary "Hear and Now," was a memoir about her deaf parents' decision to undergo risky cochlear implant surgery. It premiered at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Audience Award, and was nominated for Documentary of the Year by the Producers Guild of America.
HBO Documentary Films Presents A Vermilion Films and Google.org Production; produced and directed by Irene Taylor Brodsky; director of photography, Jeffrey Streich; editor, Bill Weber; original music, Courtney Von Drehle and Joe Janiga; associate producer, Sophie Harris; producer, Tom Grant. For HBO: consulting editor, Geof Bartz, A.C.E.; supervising producer, Sara Bernstein; executive producer, Sheila Nevins.