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Timothy E. Wirth

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Polio Eradication Within Reach as India Takes Giant Step Forward

Posted: 01/12/12 12:47 PM ET

This week the world celebrates a major milestone in the global fight against polio. On January 13, India will mark one year in which no child was paralyzed by polio -- for the first time in history.

Two years ago India had more polio cases than any other country. In just two short years, the country has taken giant steps to protect its children, while helping end polio globally forever.

India's achievement demonstrates that we can put a stop to polio and that we must remain focused on that goal. It takes strong political will, with governments, the United Nations, non-profits and corporations working together, persistent efforts to implement high-quality eradication strategies, and a continued financial commitment.

We join India in celebrating this historic milestone, and in congratulating the Government of India, the United Nations, Rotary International, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and other partners who made this achievement possible. It is their hard work, commitment and dedication -- of time, money, strength and exertion -- which has put India on the path to stopping polio. These partners are bringing the world closer to eradicating polio once and for all, protecting all children from being crippled by this debilitating disease.

Strides against polio have been significant: the disease has been reduced by 99 percent globally. In 1988, polio paralyzed 1,000 children each day around the world. Now, thanks to global immunization campaigns, only one child is paralyzed each day, and thousands of people worldwide are working urgently to reduce this to zero. Thanks to their efforts and the polio vaccine, eradication is within reach.

India overcame huge challenges to stop transmission of polio, including its high birth rate, large population, hard-to-reach migrant communities and resistance to oral polio vaccine in high-risk populations. India's progress is proof that polio eradication can be achieved anywhere in the world, even in the most challenging conditions.

India's success is also a reminder that we can't stop now. While tackling the last percent of polio cases is both challenging and expensive, it is essential to global health, because polio anywhere poses a threat everywhere. In an age of globalization, germs cross borders without a passport. Polio eradication efforts are now focused on Nigeria and Pakistan, two of just three countries where the disease is endemic. But the fight truly is global; routine immunizations must continue worldwide. The disease is now re-emerging in places that had been polio-free for years, reminding us that polio could come back with a vengeance if we don't inoculate children everywhere.

India now joins the nations of the world that have stopped polio and offers a more promising tomorrow for future generations. To maintain that dream, India must remain vigilant and continue working at full force to protect children against polio until global eradication is achieved.

Childhood immunity must be maintained through the improvement of routine immunization coverage and high quality supplementary immunization activities in order to guard against re-importation of wild poliovirus and a large polio outbreak.

The benefit of these investments will go beyond polio eradication, as the infrastructure and systems put into place also support other eradication efforts from vaccine-preventable diseases, such as measles.

I know we can stop polio if we remain focused. Together, we can make polio and other vaccine-preventable diseases a chapter in our children's history books.