World Polio Day is simultaneously a celebration and a call to action.
It’s a celebration because in the past 20 years, polio cases are down 99 percent, thanks to one of the most ambitious global health campaigns in history. Through a vast partnership, we’ve delivered polio drops to children in impossible circumstances—in active war zones, in remote mountainous regions that are unreachable for months at a time. It’s a great achievement.
But World Polio Day is also a call to action because we haven’t done enough yet. Polio is still paralyzing children. The last one percent is the hardest percent, and we have to do even more than we’ve already done if we hope to finish the job on polio. The day the world is declared polio free is the day we can really begin celebrating.
Some of the things we need more of include strong management, accountability and political commitment in countries where polio is still a threat. The community also needs to think about being increasingly innovative in getting vaccines to children who are not being reached today.
India has exemplified these, and earlier in the year the federal government of Pakistan also stepped up its fight to end polio. President Asif Ali Zardari launched a National Emergency Action Plan for Polio Eradication and is pressing hard for change at many levels to win the fight against polio.
I am optimistic that the necessary support will be forthcoming in other countries. I’ve been talking with a lot of the leaders who must show that commitment, and I believe they’ll do what they say.
In Nigeria, I met with President Goodluck Jonathan, and he made a point of inviting eight of his senior ministers to the meeting so they could hear the promises he was making about polio very clearly. When I travelled to different parts of the country I found it encouraging to witness that same resolve echoed by many leaders.
In Chad, I joined President Idriss Deby Idno to launch a three-day polio campaign. The ministers in attendance brought their own children to be vaccinated, and then President Deby and I vaccinated several children, which is always a thrill for me. When I gave short remarks at the event, the translator walked with crutches because he had been stricken by polio as a boy.
The rest of the world needs to provide financial support to help polio-affected countries run high-quality campaigns. The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting is taking place next week in Perth, Australia. This meeting will include heads of government in countries where polio is still endemic, such as India, Nigeria, and Pakistan. It will also include heads of government in countries that have been generous donors to polio eradication, including Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom. That generosity must continue.
I am hopeful that additional funding pledges will come out of the meeting in Perth, and that advocates from around the world join the cause, so that leaders like President Jonathan and President Deby can keep their promises.