In a display of solidarity, leaders from around the world today vowed to capitalize on progress achieved this year and to step up the fight to eradicate polio. 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 is needed to stamp out this disease forever: long-term commitment of resources, applying innovative best practices, and continued leadership and accountability at all levels of government in the endemic countries.
“This decisive moment is a matter of health and justice. Every child should have the right to start life with equal protection from this disease. That’s why I have made eradicating polio a top priority for my second term as Secretary-General,” said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
Polio is a vaccine-preventable disease that is more than 99 percent eliminated from the world. Today, there are the fewest number of polio cases in the fewest districts in the fewest countries than at any time in history. In 1988, when the global fight against polio began, there were 125 countries where polio raged. Today, there are only three: Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan. India, long-regarded as the nation facing the greatest challenges to eradication, has been polio-free for more than 18 months.
“The evidence is clear: if we all do our part, we can and will end this disease. But we must act quickly and give ourselves the very best chance to succeed,” said Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, one of the leading donors to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI). “When we defeat polio, it will motivate us to aim for other great health and development milestones.”
Earlier this year, at the World Health Assembly, 194 member states declared the completion of polio eradication to be a “programmatic emergency for global public health.” In order to look beyond short-term challenges, however, GPEI is developing a long-term roadmap for ending polio. The strategy also will ensure that the legacy of investments in polio supports other vaccine-preventable disease goals.
“Failure to eradicate polio is unforgiveable, forever. Failure is not an option. No single one of us can bring this long, hard drive over the last hurdle. But together we can,” said Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization.
Ending polio is an important early milestone in the Decade of Vaccines, a global vision and commitment to reach all children with the vaccines they need. A polio-free world also will lay the foundation for a better public health system that provides critical health services for children in the poorest and most inaccessible places.
“Together we can make history by eradicating polio – thanks mostly to the heroes in the field who risk their lives, every day, to deliver vaccines to children in some of the most dangerous parts of the world,” said Anthony Lake, UNICEF Executive Director.
The high-level event, “Our Commitment to the Next Generation: The Legacy of a Polio-free World,” featured opening remarks from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and was moderated by Senator Timothy E. Wirth, president of the UN Foundation.
Speakers included leaders of the three polio-affected countries: President Hamid Karzai, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan; President Goodluck Jonathan, Federal Republic of Nigeria; and President Asif Ali Zardari, Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Earlier this year, these leaders launched national emergency plans to stop transmission of polio in their countries.
“Governments need to step up and honor their commitments to polio eradication if we are to achieve a polio-free world,” said Wilfrid J. Wilkinson, Chair of Rotary Foundation Trustees. “We must seize the advantage by acting immediately, or risk breaking our pledge to the world’s children.” Rotary International, which already has contributed US$1.2 billion to polio eradication, announced additional funding of $75 million over three years to GPEI.
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard reinforced Australia’s commitment and called on the Commonwealth to do its part. Last October, Australia committed $50M during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. Also speaking was Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services for the United States. The United States has been the leading donor to the GPEI and provides technical support through the US Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC).
“We have been given the unique opportunity to end polio and provide a lasting legacy for the world’s children,” said Dr. Thomas Frieden, Director of the CDC. “Together we must strive to achieve this important global milestone.”
The Islamic Development Bank, a new donor to the polio eradication effort, announced a three-year $227 million financing package to Pakistan which will cover the majority of the country’s polio vaccination campaign costs. It also announced a $3 million grant for polio eradication activities in Afghanistan.
Additional leaders pledged new and continued commitment to polio eradication. These included:
• H.E. Julian Fantino, Minister, International Cooperation, Canada, who announced an initiative to engage civil society to match funds to GPEI;
• H.E. Koichiro Gemba, Minister, Foreign Affairs, Japan;
• Rt. Hon. Alan Duncan, Minister of State, International Development, United Kingdom, whose government committed an additional £25M to polio eradication in 2012;
• Mr. Sandro Rosell, President, Football Club Barcelona (FCB) and FCB Foundation, who announced the club’s engagement on the polio issue in collaboration with the Gates Foundation and Etisalat, the largest telecomm operator in the Middle East;
• Ms. Aseefa Bhutto Zardari, Pakistan’s Goodwill Ambassador on Polio Eradication.
On 29 September, the Global Poverty Project, a campaign group aimed at ending extreme poverty, will host the Global Citizen Festival, a concert bringing together more than 60,000 people in New York’s Central Park with the aim of inspiring a global movement to voice support for eradicating polio and ending extreme poverty.
Notes for editors:
The UN High Level event will be live-streamed, 12:30-1:30 p.m. EDT, on http://webtv.un.org/.
Photos and video of the event will be available at www.rotary.org/mediacenter and
The Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), launched in 1988, is spearheaded by national governments, the World Health Organization (WHO), Rotary International, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and UNICEF, and supported by key partners including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Since its launch, the incidence of polio has been reduced by more than 99 percent. In 1988, more than 350,000 children were paralyzed each year in more than 125 endemic countries. In 2012, 145 new cases have been reported, and only three countries remain endemic: Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
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