For Immediate Release
Development of a polio vaccine is one of the greatest public health achievements of the 20th Century. Before the Salk vaccine in 1955, polio spread through the entire world. In the United States alone, outbreaks left tens of thousands permanently disabled, including President Franklin Roosevelt.
On World Polio Day 2010, the disease is confined to a few thousand cases a year in a handful of countries. The immunization of more than 500 million children each year, with the help of more than 20 million health workers and volunteers is a remarkable human achievement. Today, polio vaccination is the only public health initiative to reach the doorstep of every child in the world.
If this were any other health problem, we’d be rejoicing about a 99 percent reduction in cases. But polio continues to spread and paralyze children in a few remaining corners of the world. That is a tragedy we can help prevent, and by doing so protect our own health. To leave even a small immunity gap risks the entire initiative, with reduced prospects for eradication or the eventual elimination of the need for routine polio immunization.
President Obama has made the fight against global poverty – and disease –a top priority for the U.S. Government.. The United States has been the largest funder of efforts to eliminate polio around the world, but partnership is critical. USAID and our colleagues at the Centers for Disease Control have joined with the World Health Organization, UNICEF, Rotary International, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and many others in this effort. Rotary in particular deserves commendation for its decades-long global commitment to fighting polio.
The new 2010-2012 Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) Strategic Plan, recently endorsed by the World Health Assembly, has set an ambitious goal for getting close to eradicating polio by the end of 2012. The U.S. strongly supports the new strategy, especially its efforts to coordinate with routine immunization and health systems. The effort against polio shows the impact when partners in and outside of government—other countries, NGO’s, faith leaders, and multilateral organizations—work together. Greater efficiency through coordination, is also important for the U.S. Global Health Initiative which places a strong increased emphasis on improving the health of women and children.
In 2009, President Obama announced a U.S. commitment to work with the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) on an intensified effort for polio eradication during his speech in Cairo. We have worked closely with the OIC in strengthening outreach on polio through religious, political, and health leaders. We appreciate the support and dedication of the OIC as a partner.
Eliminating the final one percent of polio cases and the remaining reservoirs of wild virus has proven to be one of the most difficult challenges, as polio remains today in areas beset by conflict and poverty, where local capacity is often weak. We need to rally to do everything possible to immunize children through routine immunization and mass campaigns and to sustain high levels of surveillance to respond quickly to new cases before the virus has a chance to spread in communities or across international borders.
This is truly a global effort that provides life saving vaccine to the world’s children without regard for religion, ethnicity, gender, socio-economic level or politics. The risk of failure would see a return of epidemics of childhood paralysis within a few years. We can not miss this opportunity to allow the virus to creep back.
No place in the world is free from the threat of polio until the whole world is polio free.
World Polio Day is a day for all of us to recommit to the goal: End polio now.
Last updated: December 11, 2013