Annan highlights global fight against polio

WAM Abu Dhabi, Apr 25th, 2013 (WAM)–United Nations former chief Kofi Annan hailed the progress made in the Decade of Vaccines to end polio once and for all, and to invest in routine immunisation programmes to improve overall child health.

In his remarks today at the Global Vaccine Summit, he said, “The battle against polio is a cause close to my heart” noting that “For those of our generation, it was a real threat, casting a shadow over childhood across the world.” He paid a glowing tribute to Dr. Hilary Koprowski, the inventor of the first successful oral vaccination who died earlier this month, and his colleagues. They “gave us the power to protect children for the first time.” But developing a vaccine, though essential, is not enough, Annan continued, it has to be delivered to the children who need it. “This was the aim of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), which brought together governments, UN agencies, foundations, and businesses as well as the funding and support of a million Rotarians who adopted this global cause as their own.” He lauded the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), which brought together governments, UN agencies, foundations, and businesses as well as the funding and support of a million Rotarians who adopted this global cause as their own.

Full text of the Speech of the UN secretary general Kofi Annan: “1. Thank you, Ms. Panjabi, for the kind introduction and to all of you for that welcome.

2. It is a privilege to be here today. I’m grateful to His Highness General Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and Bill Gates for hosting this important summit, and for asking me to speak.

3. We are here to celebrate the progress we have made in the Decade of Vaccines, to give impetus to a new strategy to end polio once and for all, and to invest in routine immunisation programmes to improve overall child health.

4. The battle against polio is a cause close to my heart. As you have just heard from my friend Desmond Tutu, polio is a truly terrible disease.

5. For those of our generation, it was a real threat, casting a shadow over childhood across the world.

6. Before the development of an effective vaccine, polio paralyzed and killed up to half a million people every year.

7. The work of Dr. Hilary Koprowski, the inventor of the first successful oral vaccination who died earlier this month, and his colleagues gave us the power to protect children for the first time.

8. But developing a vaccine, though essential, is not enough. It has to be delivered to the children who need it.

9. This was the aim of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), which brought together governments, UN agencies, foundations, and businesses as well as the funding and support of a million Rotarians who adopted this global cause as their own.

10. The result has been one of the largest and most successful coordinated health initiatives in history.

11. By 2000, the number of polio cases had been cut dramatically. But the disease was still found in 20 countries across large areas of Africa and Asia.

12. That is why, as UN Secretary-General, I made it a global priority to re-energise our efforts to eradicate polio.

13. Thanks to the dedication of those in this room, and many others around the world, this shared goal is now tantalizingly within reach.

14. Last year, the total number of cases worldwide fell to a record low of 223.

15. After an extraordinary effort, India has celebrated two full years without a single confirmed case.

16. Only three years before, India suffered 741 cases – almost half of all those reported globally.

17. Ladies and gentlemen, the global initiative has been an extraordinary success. Since it was launched 25 years ago, polio cases have fallen by 99 per cent, and an estimated 10 million people have been saved from paralysis.

18. Today, polio remains endemic in only three countries: Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

19. Here it survives largely in communities on the fringes of society, where poverty is most acute or insecurity is greatest.

20. This is also why finally eradicating polio is so difficult.

21. It requires the delivery of vaccines to the most marginalized of children, beyond the reach of the most basic of health services.

22. We also have to overcome real and serious security challenges.

23. The killing of health workers in northern Nigeria and Pakistan reminds us of the risks being run by those courageously trying to protect children from this disease.

24. We must provide health workers with proper protection and engage community and religious leaders in collective efforts to prevent such brutal incidents from happening again.

25. We must not let any barrier prevent us from consigning this disease, like smallpox, to the history books.

26. In doing so, we will help some of the most vulnerable children on our planet and demonstrate emphatically our belief in the equal worth of every child.

27. Estimates suggest that eradicating polio could result in savings of $40-50 billion, with some 85 % of this going to low-income countries.

28. But just as the prize is great if we succeed, so too is the cost if we fail.

29. For polio will not remain contained as it is now, but spread again to new communities and countries.

30. We cannot take this risk or waste this opportunity. This is why the World Health Assembly called for one final effort, and why the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) is finalising a comprehensive strategy to eradicate polio once and for all.

31. The strategy places fresh demands on all of us. The countries where polio remains endemic must step up their efforts to vaccinate all their children, wherever they are.

32. Over 100 other nations must continue and refine their polio immunisation programmes.

33. The global community must find the US $5.5 billion needed in funding to support these efforts.

34. The good news is that we have already seen real progress. The leaders of Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan have given the strategy their strong personal commitment.

35. Effective programmes to overcome local and security challenges to deliver vaccines to the hardest-to-reach children are being put into place.

36. These are increasingly being supported by religious, traditional and community leaders in the affected areas.

37. The rest of us should ensure that adequate resources are available to help them.

38. I urge new partners, including philanthropists and the private sector, and traditional donors – such as the G8 and the EU – to dig deep to support this cause.

39. Let me congratulate the Islamic Development Bank, a new donor to this cause, for their announcement of $227 million in polio financing to Pakistan and $3 million to Afghanistan.

40. I also commend the Alwaleed bin Talal Foundation and Bloomberg Philanthropies for their pledges to this critical global effort. We need more organisations and individuals to follow this lead.

41. But ladies and gentlemen, while we celebrate this progress, let us take this opportunity to link the investment in polio eradication to broader health services.

42. For we now have the vaccines to protect against a wide variety of other diseases with more breakthroughs on the horizon.

43. For a small cost, we can save the lives of thousands of children each year and enable them to become healthy and productive members of society.

44. We know that vaccines are one of the most cost-effective interventions we can make in child and global health.

45. By encouraging us to expand and strengthen health systems, immunisation programmes have helped us put in place wider health interventions.

46. By implementing the plan to end polio, for example, we can ensure hard-to-reach children also benefit from other vaccines, as well as insecticide-treated bed nets for malaria control, and vitamin A to prevent the blindness often associated with measles.

47. This is why investing in routine immunisation systems for all children is critical to achieving the Millennium Development Goal on reducing child mortality.

48. Ladies and Gentlemen, the fight against polio has shown us that when the international community comes together, even the toughest enemy can be overcome.

49. But we must not relax until the fight is won and until every child in the world enjoys full protection from polio and other preventable diseases.

50. We all have a role to play in delivering this important objective. Governments, international institutions and foundations – including all of us at this summit today – must continue to show leadership, develop the right policies, and provide resources.

51. Citizens should pressure their governments so that they keep their promises and deliver pledged resources.

52. We need a transparent and competitive market for vaccines. Pharmaceutical companies can and must do more to ensure that vaccines are affordable for everyone.

53. We must also invest in better scientific research and technologies to ensure all children are immunised.

54. We need to improve our knowledge about the children who are currently missing out on vaccinations, and strengthen delivery systems to reach them.

55. We have to invest in new and effective vaccines and increase efforts to replace Oral polio vaccine (OPV) with inactivated polio vaccines in routine immunisation programmes.

56. We must seize the opportunity to integrate immunisation programmes with other life-sustaining interventions.

57. Ladies and gentlemen, we all know that parents everywhere are vitally concerned about the health and well-being of their children; so we have to tackle misunderstanding about the importance of vaccines through appropriate education programmes.

58. Finally, we should harness the compassion of people around the world who want to support the cause of saving children from preventable diseases.

59. For example, the UN Foundation is working with Rotary International and others to mobilise hundreds of thousands of individuals through the “Shot At Life” campaign.

60. For only by concerted actions at local, national, and global levels can we fully realise the massive potential of vaccines.

61. Let me end by asking you to join me in reaffirming our commitment to build on the successes we have achieved with polio and routine immunisations for other diseases.

62. We have an opportunity and an obligation today to create a healthier and more equitable world. Our children deserve this chance.

63. The goal of eradicating polio is within our sights. So too is the goal of immunising every child against infectious diseases.

64. By coming together, we can pass a crucial milestone in transforming global health, and demonstrate how collective action can deliver a healthier world for all children.” Thank you.

WAM/MN

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