Thursday was an outstanding day. The main reason for my trip to New York was to attend a meeting hosted by the Secretary-General of the United Nations where the heads of state from Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan stood alongside donor government officials and new donors from the public and private sector to outline what we need to do to stamp out polio. It was a remarkable display of solidarity, energy and commitment. It was an honor to be there.
Anyone who visits this website regularly knows that polio eradication is my number one priority and an area that I spend a lot of my time on at the foundation.
Thursday’s event was a fundamental step forward on the path to finishing the job of ending this terrible disease. The Secretary-General called it a “decisive moment” and I think anyone who was in the room, or watched online, would have to agree.
I had the chance to meet privately with the presidents of Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan, and they all reaffirmed their public commitments to doing everything they possibly can to end this disease. Backing them up were commitments from the World Health Organization, UNICEF and the Centers for Disease Control to aid in this important work. Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard reaffirmed her country’s support for the effort, and the Islamic Development bank announced significant funding for Afghanistan and Pakistan to pursue polio campaigns. The U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary, Kathleen Sebelius also joined us, highlighting the long-standing and continuing generosity of the U.S. in this battle.
Rotary International, which has been working on this for 25 years, reminded us of our need to seize the moment and finish the job. Sandro Rosell who’s President of Football Club Barcelona and their foundation, announced the club’s engagement on the polio issue in collaboration with Etisalat, the largest telecomm operator in the Middle East.
We will be going to work full-steam on a comprehensive plan that gets us to a polio-free world, and I hope we’ll have something to announce in six months’ time. Today’s announcements were an excellent start.
Dr. Margaret Chan, the head of the World Health Organization, said it very nicely. “No single one of us can bring this long, hard drive over the last hurdle. But together we can.”
Ending polio is not impossible. But it is not inevitable. It will require the courage and commitment of many. But the evidence is clear: if we all do our part, we can and will end this disease.