Today’s New York Times article by Donald McNeil titled “Pakistan Battles Polio, and Its People’s Mistrust” is a powerful story that highlights some of the incredible people and organizations responsible for getting us closer than ever to ending polio in my home country of Pakistan, and eradicating the disease worldwide.
I have been involved in the polio effort for 14 years and have seen the program through ups and downs in all the three remaining endemic countries with polio in the world.
There are very real challenges, but there is a hopeful and inspiring side of the story. This is the story that I have dedicated my life and career to fulfilling. This is the story that, despite all of the challenges, makes me more confident than ever that we can eradicate this disease by 2018. Let me explain.
Progress to date – Since 1988, the world has seen the number of polio cases drop from 350,000 a year to less than 250 in 2012. The biggest advance in a decade happened in the past two years when India became polio-free, leaving only three countries – Pakistan, Nigeria and Afghanistan – where polio eradication has never been stopped. Today, in Pakistan, there are the fewest number of polio cases than ever.
Where there’s a will there’s a way – Millions of people around the world have played a part in wiping out this debilitating but preventable disease. I can proudly say that I’m one of them and I’ve seen first-hand the sheer determination and will it takes to save a child from a lifetime of suffering from polio.
Commitment of government leaders — The governments of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria have all committed to ending polio in the next couple of years. Most recently, the new Pakistan Prime Minister reinforced his personal and the government’s commitment to finish the job. They are raising vaccinators’ pay, increasing security for vaccinators and improving crisis response. All political parties in Pakistan are united in their fight against polio. All parties signed a unanimous decision condemning killing of the polio workers and expressing their support for Polio Eradication in December 2012. In Afghanistan President Karzai remains highly committed to Polio Eradication and the Taliban have also shown their support for polio eradication on humanitarian grounds.
Just this past April, donor governments and philanthropists pledged $4 billion toward implementation of a six-year plan to achieve a polio-free world by 2018.
We can and have reached (almost) every child – Ending polio requires reaching all children, including the most vulnerable, with the polio vaccine. Because we have found and reached children living in the most dire of circumstances, we are more than 99 percent toward achieving our goal of polio eradication. This success rate proves that we can deliver any kind of assistance – more life-saving vaccines, clean water, education – to the children who need it most, no matter where they live. This effort gives us confidence that ending polio is a gateway to other major humanitarian advances.
Heroic Vaccinators – Each time I go to Pakistan, I am inspired by the individual acts of heroism I see from vaccinators who dedicate themselves to ensuring that no child will ever again suffer from polio.
Eradicating a disease has only been done once before for a reason. It is really difficult. It is difficult due to scientific, political, and geographic challenges. Yet ending polio is worth fighting for because these difficulties are nothing compared to the benefits that we, as a global community, will bestow on generations to come.