WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the World Health Organization certifies the South-East Asia Region polio-free, marking another major milestone in the global fight against polio, and a significant step to protect all children against this debilitating, but preventable disease. Southeast Asia is the fourth WHO region to be certified polio-free, joining the Americas (1994), and the Western Pacific (2000) and European (2002) regions.
I want to congratulate and thank the legions of volunteers, health workers, community leaders, mobilizers, lab staff, religious and traditional leaders, and the millions of others who contributed to this Herculean effort to reach every child, multiple times with polio vaccine.
We must build on this historic moment. It pains me to think of little girls and boys who unnecessarily suffer from a disease that can be prevented for 14 cents. In fact, it is a little girl from a tiny village in West Bengal who is now the symbol of India's valiant and landmark achievement in the global battle against the disease. Rukhsar Khatoon is the last documented case of polio in India and the region. She represents one of India's biggest public health successes, achieved through a massive and sustained immunization program, and the tireless efforts of millions of workers including more than 2.4 million volunteer vaccinators who immunized 170 million children.
The Global effort to eradicate polio is spearheaded by Rotary International, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), WHO and UNICEF – with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. USAID has played a critical role, recognizing and raising the importance of mobile populations, cross-border coordination, communication and the need for more women, Muslim, vaccinators. In fact, working with local community organizations, women’s groups and self-help groups, the messages have gone well beyond polio to address other immunizations, water and sanitation, breastfeeding and handwashing. Our steady financial support and technical leadership has contributed to this success.
Each day, in countless villages across the globe, the unsung heroes of public health protect the health and well-being of newborns, toddlers, girls and boys, expectant mothers and other community members. The American people are a key partner to this effort as USAID makes evidence-based investments to help save newborns from severe infections, protect young children from the risks of diarrhea, pneumonia and malaria, and help women space the births of their children and avoid deaths from preventable causes.
In 2013, President Obama articulated his bold vision for realizing one of the greatest contributions to human progress in history – ending extreme poverty and ending preventable child death. Our work to end polio is central to this bold vision. I believe that, working with our international partners, we can finally live in a polio-free world.