Eradication of polio took a swift step forward this last decade, with 99% of the disease now eradicated from the world. India, once the most difficult country to fight polio, celebrated its first anniversary of being polio-free this year, and the number of polio cases has dropped dramatically worldwide.
But as health leaders in both the social and private sectors emphasized at the United Nations Today, the world should not abandon the issue until the last 1 percent of polio cases is eliminated from even the most difficult-to-reach areas.
“I have made eradicating Polio a top priority for my second term as secretary-General,” Ban Ki Moon said in his statement that kicked off the meeting. “To deliver global results, we need global solidarity. That’s why I have put the strength of the entire United Nations system behind Polio.”
In Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan Polio remains a problem, especially in remote regions and among the countries’ minority population. Heads of state from all three countries gathered at the meeting to pledge their commitment to fighting the disease, and gather support from the international community.
Hamid Karzai, President of Afghanistan, remained hopeful that polio had no future in his country, and that he would be able to see it disappear in even the most remote communities “Surely we will, and hopefully sooner rather than later,” he said.
Goodluck Jonathan, President of Nigeria said he wanted to “reaffirm Nigeria’s steadfast commitment” to the task. He explained the difficulty that healthcare workers had to convince people in remote villages of the need to vaccinate their children. “There are some parents who deliberately keep their children away from the officers admitting the vaccinations,” President Jonathan admitted.
Sitting underneath a picture of his late wife Benazir Bhutto vaccinating their daughter with the Polio vaccine, President of Pakistan Asif Ali Zardari raised the political background of the polio vaccine in his country, but explained that he trusts the tribal elders and religious leaders to mobilize their communities. He reminded the gathered high level guests that in the past decade, polio went from being endemic in 100 countries to it being a problem in only three countries today.
The three heads of state were joined by representatives of several donor countries to the campaign to eradicate polio. Countries like Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom, as well as donors from the private sector – like the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, the Islamic Development Bank and the Rotary Club- came up with generous donations to help countries fund their final battle against polio.