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5 Reasons I’m Excited About World Polio Day

October 23, 2012

To many people around the world, World Polio Day is just another “day”. This year I am genuinely excited about World Polio Day, (and it’s not just because I am the director of the polio program at the foundation). It’s really because I have seen an unprecedented series of successes, commitment from existing and new donors and signs of progress that give me confidence we can finish the job.

I hope you’ll join in my excitement about how, together, we can achieve a polio-free world and what it will mean for future global health and development progress and successes. Throughout its history, the polio eradication effort has seen its share of progress and setbacks. But this year alone, the program has progressed significantly more than in any other year in the last decade. In 2012:

  1. We have the fewest number of cases in the fewest districts in the fewest number of countries than ever before.  Polio cases are at their lowest level ever, 171 cases this year down from 467 at this time last year.
  2. We’ve achieved big wins.
    • India has been polio-free for more than 18 months. India was long regarded as the most difficult place to eliminate the disease. Thanks to India fully funding its program, committed leaders and dedicated health workers–India’s children are fully protected from polio.
    • West Africa has stopped polio transmission. Last year at this time we were dealing with 51 cases of polio in four countries in West Africa. This year we have 0. Nigeria is the only country left in Africa with recent cases of polio
  3. We’ve seen world events recognizing the urgency of seizing this once-in-a-generation opportunity to end polio.   Eradicating polio is a global effort. We’re all part of this. This year, I have witnessed global solidarity like never before. This kind of commitment from political, religious and traditional leaders along with financial commitments from existing and new donors makes me confident we have the support to eradicate this disease.
    • In May, 194 countries declared the final push toward polio eradication to be an emergency in public health.
    • In September, during the UN General Assembly, UN Secretary General Ban ki-moon along with presidents of Nigeria, Pakistan, and Afghanistan (the three remaining countries where polio transmission hasn’t been stopped), Bill Gates and other world leaders stood alongside new and existing partners and donors and declared accountability to do what is needed to ensure a polio-free world.
    • This year we had existing donor governments reaffirming their commitments, but also, new partners and donors. For example, the Islamic Development Bank recently announced its support to Pakistan and Afghanistan in eliminating polio. Our partners FC Barcelona and FC Barcelona Foundation announced it will work with us and Middle East-based mobile-provider Etisalat to help fight polio in Nigeria.
    • The launch of the Global Poverty Project’s Global Citizen platform and the Global Citizen Festival took place late September, engaging the broader public in taking action to show support for making polio eradication a priority.  The concert highlighted the urgency of polio eradication to 60,000 fans at a free concert in New York’s Central Park while millions more watching online, and tens of thousands lent their voices in support. 
  4. Children living in the hardest to reach areas have received life-saving vaccines.  This year, thanks to efforts to ensure no child is missed with a polio vaccine, kids who had never before been reached with life-saving vaccines received polio vaccines as well as vaccines against measles, pneumonia and other preventable diseases. Putting these children “on the map” makes it possible to reach them with other health and development interventions that they need to live healthy productive lives. The work being done to deliver the polio vaccine is paving the way for these children to receive their routine immunizations, clean water, and basic medical services.
  5. A lot of work and a historic opportunity is ahead – Due to the progress made this year, the world has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to end a crippling disease that has paralyzed and killed hundreds of thousands of children. Eradicating a human disease has only been done once before in history with smallpox. Ending polio won’t be easy, and we have our work cut out for us in the years ahead. However, we have the pieces in place and with the right commitments and focus we can end this disease. Ending polio is a chance for the global community to be part of history and save the lives of children everywhere.

Now you know why I’m excited today and why all of us need to be working extra hard to achieve this important goal - why are you excited about World Polio Day?

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