I'm recently back from New Delhi where I attended meetings on global health security, tuberculosis, and HIV -- and very importantly, participated in the World Health Organization's event to certify Southeast Asia free of polio.
The 11 countries of Southeast Asia -- Bangladesh, Bhutan, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, India, Indonesia, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Timor-Leste -- are home to 1.8 billion people.
This means 80 percent of the world is now polio-free -- a remarkable achievement.
Even as we celebrated this important milestone, we acknowledged there's more to do.
There are still three places in the world where wild poliovirus has never stopped killing and disabling children: Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Nigeria. Last December I had the chance to visit Nigeria and observe first-hand the progress they're making in the fight against polio.
I visited health clinics and participated in vaccination campaigns, honored to be one of those administering polio vaccine to waiting children, helping make sure those children will never suffer from this terrible disease.
The lessons of Southeast Asia are being applied in these last three countries -- improving immunization activities, outreach to underserved populations, special approaches in security-compromised areas, outbreak response, improved routine immunization and disease tracking -- so the world can get to the finish line in the fight against polio.
Not only does eradicating polio mean saving countless children and families and tens of billions of dollars in treatment and care, it also means new opportunity and growth for entire communities and countries.
As we continue to eradicate polio nation by nation, it is a victory for the entire world. And when it is done, it will be the ultimate in equity and sustainability because it will be for every single child in the world and it will be forever.
In January, India completed three full years without a new case of polio, proving that the virus had finally been stopped within its borders. India was the last of the 11 countries in Southeast Asia to beat the disease, setting the stage for the region's polio-free certification this month. Pictured here is a polio vaccination team in Raftan Pur Kalam, Moradabad, India, in front of one of the houses they visit. Photo credit: Almudena Toral
Until very recently, polio was considered a fact of life in India. Polluted water, poor sanitation, extreme poverty and a very dense population allowed the disease to flourish. This child has come to be immunized at one of the vaccination booths in Moradabad, India. Photo credit: Almudena Toral
Just a few drops of the oral polio vaccine, given in several doses, will protect a child from this terrible disease. Photo credit: Almudena Toral
In late March, leaders from around the world gathered in New Delhi to mark the certification of Southeast Asia as polio-free. Photo credit: U.S. Embassy New Delhi
It was a great pleasure to speak with Dr. Poonam Khetrapal Singh, the WHO Regional Director for South-East Asia. Photo credit: U.S. Embassy New Delhi
I’m talking here with Dr. Akinori Kama, Liaison Officer to the Regional Director, World Health Organization’s South-East Asia Regional Office. Dr. Kama was one of the first people I met when I moved to India in 1996 to work for 5 years on tuberculosis control. Photo credit: U.S. Embassy New Delhi
At the New Delhi event, I was able to speak with Dr. Yonas Tegegn, WHO’s representative in Thailand. Photo credit: U.S. Embassy New Delhi
It is a privilege for CDC to be part of this global effort, working so every mother can know that her child will never be at risk for polio. Photo credit: CDC
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