World Polio Day 2016: A Focus on Tenacity and Hope

Posted on by Dr. Rebecca Martin, Director CDC’s Center for Global Health
Rebecca Martin, PhD, Director, Center for Global Health
Rebecca Martin, PhD, Director, Center for Global Health

John Bingham is an American writer and long distance runner who’s competed in more than 45 marathons. He has no connection whatsoever to global health. Nor does he claim any history or involvement with the difficult but ever hopeful struggle to eradicate polio from every corner of the world.

So it might seem odd that Bingham’s words come to mind today, World Polio Day, as an apt and perfectly relevant call to action in our efforts to defeat polio.

“Marathons,” he wrote, “are about tenacity as much as talent.”

We have made remarkable progress in our goal to eradicate polio, but if we are to close the last, small but stubborn distance between a world with polio and one without, we should heed Bingham’s advice.

Today, on World Polio Day, it’s worth remembering that we won’t reverse polio’s resurgence in Nigeria or anywhere without tenacity. As recently as 2012, Nigeria accounted for more than half of all polio cases in the world; however, thanks to quality vaccination campaigns and surveillance, the country has made significant progress.  Currently a massive immunization campaign that will reach 40 million children across Nigeria and four other African nations in the Lake Chad Basin requires nothing if not tenacity and quality performance.

We must be tenacious finding new and novel strategies for immunizing people in war torn and insecure parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan, the only countries besides Nigeria where polio is found. And ensuring that countries where polio has been erased stay that way demands a vigilance and sharp-eyed attention that are the embodiments of tenacity.

Being tenacious also requires us to recognize the progress we’ve made as well as the work left to be completed. World Polio Day is a perfect moment for that reflection and for a sober analysis for achieving what we all want – a world free of polio everywhere.

The facts and the on-the-ground realities are plain to see. All the hard work; all the science and innovations; all the collaborations and critical partnerships among the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Rotary International, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the World Health Organization, UNICEF , countries, communities, and many more, have resulted in the fewest cases of polio in the fewest places  in history.

We need to be even more tenacious in our determination to finish the job.

Just think, an awful, debilitating and painful disease that once was second only to nuclear war as a prevailing public fear, today is a faint and fading memory in the United States and much of the developed world. In those places, in fact, the days when the lives of children and adults were upended by a crippling disease, when iron lungs and clattering leg braces were common in many communities – has disappeared. It’s true that most physicians working today in the United States and in much of the developed world will never see a case of polio.

But that’s not true everywhere. And that’s why we must remain tenacious and demand quality performance from ourselves

It’s why World Polio Day is important. For while we’re tantalizingly close to eliminating polio worldwide, we are not there. That makes today the perfect time to reflect, for recognizing our successes, reaffirming our commitment to defeating this terrible disease and taking a sober measure of the remaining hills to traverse and what’s needed to reach that ultimate goal.

The facts are well known but worth repeating. In 1988, there were 350,000 cases of polio in 125 countries. By 2015, that number had declined to 74 cases in just two remaining endemic countries, Pakistan and Afghanistan. As of today there are 27 cases in the world.

Then a setback: polio was detected in Nigeria after two years of not detecting any wild polio cases. It was the fact that armed conflict and insecurity made it unsafe and impossible to fully immunize everyone, everywhere. We need to be tenacious in identifying silent areas and understand what we do not know so we can act proactively.  Surmounting this sad reality requires a tenacious determination and effort, as well as the continued bravery by all communities and health workers.

Let’s not forget some other important facts. As recently as 2012, Nigeria accounted for more than half of all polio cases in the world. But thanks to hard and tenacious work by the Nigerian people and its government in partnership with the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, the country has strengthened its ability to detect virus and respond and to vaccinate.

The discovery touched off an aggressive response.  The virus will be stopped in Nigeria and ultimately everywhere. I have no doubt,

More broadly, since 1988 the work of the international partnership to defeat polio has spared 16 million children the terrible fate that comes with polio – paralysis. More than 800,000 deaths have been prevented.

The world is up to this monumental feat. The collective action across all sectors is remarkable. The determination is visible, and we must be tenacious to cross the finish line and the ultimate gift to future generations – eradicating polio.

Posted on by Dr. Rebecca Martin, Director CDC’s Center for Global Health

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Page last updated: May 26, 2017
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