Seattle — The global polio program is one of the largest and most successful public health campaigns to date. What the campaign has been able to do - drive global cases down from 350,000 a year in 1988 to less than 250 last year - is truly a testament to this unique global effort. The polio program works across borders, politics, and religions to ensure children for generations will have the opportunity to live in a polio free world.
The UK paper, the Independent featured a story today focused on the bravest women working to end polio in Pakistan in the face of serious challenges. Its powerful headline "Angels of Karachi: The Pakistani women who risk death every day to vaccinate children against polio" captures the essence of the critical role women vaccinators are playing in eradicating polio. One quote in the story from a vaccinator named Gulnaz Sherazi particularly stuck with me, "We all die one day," "So why not die as a brave person?" Ms. Sherazi saw her niece just moments after she had been killed, yet she still continues her job for the sake of others in her community and country. It's hard to even comprehend this kind of courage.
Today, we are at the cusp of worldwide polio eradication. Only a few regions in a few countries have reported polio cases. But these regions bring about huge challenges that seem insurmountable - How do we vaccinate children when areas are restricted? How do we find the children in migrant families that move monthly across regions and borders? How do countries continue to prioritize polio when there is violence and other diseases taking many more lives?
There isn't an easy answer and it won't be easy -- but it can be done.
It can be done thanks to many global organizations including Rotary International, the CDC, UNICEF and the WHO that have been working for more than 25 years to rid the world of this paralyzing disease. But it is because of local leaders and health workers in Pakistan like Ms. Sherazi, and women like her in Afghanistan, and Nigeria - we will defeat this terrible disease.