We got smarter and faster at fighting polio. You may have heard about recent polio outbreaks in Syria, Kenya, and Somalia. What you may not know is just how rapid and effective the response has been. It looks like the outbreak in the Horn of Africa was controlled in 4 months, less than half the time it took to control an outbreak there in 2005. That speed is due in part to the work done at the Global Vaccine Summit held in Abu Dhabi this year. In the past, the world has had to make tough trade-offs between responding to outbreaks, improving routine immunization, and fighting the disease in the last three countries where polio is still circulating (Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Nigeria). There was no coordinated plan or long-term funding for doing all three at once. At the summit the world got both. We adopted a comprehensive plan for pursuing all three goals, including making the world polio-free by 2018. And more than 30 donors—including a number of very generous private individuals—backed the plan with a total of $4 billion in long-term funding. That means we won’t have to make those trade-offs anymore. It’s a huge step forward.
There’s also great news from India. In early 2014, India will have gone three years without a single polio case (assuming no new ones are reported between now and then). That’s a testament to the fantastic job they’ve done immunizing every child, even in the most remote parts of the country. Now they’re focused on keeping the disease from coming back.
Next door, in Pakistan, the political leaders are clearly resolved to get polio out of the country once and for all. When I met Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif this fall, he made it clear that he sees vaccinating children as a matter of justice. Despite the ongoing violence there and in Afghanistan—including horrifying reprisals against vaccine workers—the next couple of years are a good opportunity for us to make progress on this goal.