Fifty years ago, polio was widespread around the world. Incidence of the disease has been reduced to fewer than 1,500 new cases in 2010. There are just four countries where we’ve never stopped polio. The challenge now is to invest the additional $1 billion per year it may take until we completely eradicate the disease.
Our foundation is very committed to this goal because wiping out polio once and for all will have a fantastic payoff, in that no child will ever be paralyzed or die from it again. But if we fail to make this final push, then we’ll continue struggling indefinitely to contain polio. It will spread. Over 200,000 kids a year will be killed or paralyzed.
Eradication is not easy. It’s been successful only once before, with smallpox. It involves dispensing vaccine drops to 90 percent of the kids under 5, not just once but four or more times, in very poor and often isolated villages. But we’re so close.
And eradicating polio will have broader benefits in terms of children’s health. All our anti-polio efforts are designed to strengthen the system for delivering routine vaccinations against other diseases, and to deliver new vaccines as they’re invented. This is the best investment in children’s health that we could possibly make.
Bruce Aylward directs the World Health Organization’s Global Polio Eradication Initiative and leads an army of people worldwide who are dedicated to ending this terrible disease. Being in charge of an eradication campaign is a very difficult job, because there’s so much going on all over the world. Bruce has to raise the money, study outbreaks and build out systems to deal with them. There have been setbacks, but he has done a fantastic job on the polio campaign. He’s energized people and got everyone believing that we have this one chance to do it right.