This week, I am heading from Seattle to New York to speak for 180 seconds. I will be talking at a United Nations meeting about the fight to eradicate polio. I am very passionate on the subject, and I usually prefer to discuss it for hours at a time. In this case, however, I am happy to stop at three minutes. Because the reason my time is short is that so many people are committed to eradication we can barely all squeeze into the program.
When the UN event on ending polio is one of the hottest tickets in town, you know you are witnessing an extraordinary moment of global solidarity. And the timing couldn’t be better, because we’re at a particularly critical juncture in the fight.
New polio cases are the lowest they’ve ever been and there are currently just three countries, down from 125 in 1988, where polio is still endemic: Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Pakistan. India has defeated polio and Angola has defeated it twice. We have never been this close.
In New York, the world’s leaders will show how seriously they take this opportunity and pledge not to let it slip through our fingers.
On Thursday, the presidents of all three endemic countries are scheduled to be in New York to talk about their personal commitment to wiping polio out of their countries. They’ll also describe how they’re holding leaders at all levels of their governments accountable for results.
The three presidents will be joined by representatives from many existing and newer donors to polio eradication: Australia, Canada, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States, as well as Rotary International.
And by brand new donors: for example, the Islamic Development Bank, which is stepping up with contributions to support efforts in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Also joining is the president of our partners FC Barcelona and the FC Barcelona Foundation, who with their partners Etisalat, a Middle East telecommunications company, will be working to engage a global movement in support of polio eradication.
This amazing group is coming to New York because UN secretary general Ban Ki Moon has made it clear that ending polio is among his top five global health priorities.
Eradicating a disease is very hard to do—so hard that it’s only been done once in the history of the world. But the world is coming together with the financial resources, the political commitment, and the innovation necessary to do something absolutely extraordinary, to protect every child everywhere from this preventable disease.
When we succeed, the disease will be gone, but the lessons we learned from this fight will remain. We will be able to build on them to vaccinate more children from more diseases and save millions more lives, to mobilize more countries to donate to global health, and to inspire more heads of state to put development at the top of their list of priorities.
That’s a lot of impact, and that is why I am travelling 3,000 miles to say 300 words.