The fight against polio has been particularly successful, as the crippling disease is now very nearly a thing of the past: The number of new cases worldwide has dropped a staggering 99 percent since the 1980s, when thousands of children were paralyzed by it every year. And as a leader in U.S. government efforts toward global polio eradication, the CDC contributed significantly to that remarkable achievement of the number of cases reported dropping from 350,000 in 1988, to just 223 in 2012.
Unfortunately, we’re not out of the woods yet. If we turn back now, all the progress we’ve made towards eliminating polio will have been for nothing: The U.N.’s World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that the disease could come roaring back, with as many as 200,000 new cases forecasted over the next ten years, if current vaccination rates don’t continue.
That’s why the Global Polio Eradication Initiative — a public-private partnership led by the WHO, Rotary International, the CDC, and UNICEF — just released a new six-year comprehensive strategy calling on endemic countries to step up vaccination efforts and 100 other nations like ours to help them get there. Polio is a global disease that requires a global solution, plain and simple.
Which brings me to back to why I’m currently 5,978 miles away from home.
I’m here in Cameroon to meet with and learn from the people who are fighting this battle on the ground every single day, from UNICEF field staff to the Minister of Health. In fact, tomorrow, I have the honor of participating in a ceremony to officially launch a national polio eradication campaign – which is exactly the level of commitment we need to see from leaders worldwide.
We have the opportunity to give more children the chance to lead healthy, disease-free lives, if – and only if – the U.S. continues to lead by example.
Yeo is vice president of Public Policy, United Nations Foundation.