Health, Humanitarian and Business Leaders Gather and Agree to
For Certifying World Polio-Free By 2005; Countdown Clock Is Ticking
Ted Turner, Mia Farrow Among Those Who Pledge To Generate Funding &
'Timing is Everything' in Global Vaccine Relay
UNITED NATIONS, New York Backed by a broad spectrum of leaders
from business, governments, UN agencies and humanitarian groups, United Nations
Secretary-General Kofi Annan said today that the world could win the race against polio so
long as health workers are able to vaccinate every child.
Touting the strategic plan 2001 2005 for the final chapter of
global eradication, Mr Annan declared that the race to reach the last child with polio
vaccine had begun. "Our race to reach the last child is a race against time,"
Annan said. "If we do not seize the chance now, the virus will regain its grip and
the opportunity will elude us forever."
Mr Annan's statement came during an unprecedented gathering of
leading players in the polio eradication effort, including TimeWarner Vice-Chairman Ted
Turner, Rotary International President Frank Devlyn, WHO Director-General Dr Gro Harlem
Brundtland, UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy, government representatives from
polio-affected countries, corporate and public sector donors, and actress Mia Farrow, who
suffered from polio as a child and whose son Thaddeus is paralyzed by polio.
"We must negotiate access to all children for national
immunization days, particularly in the priority countries affected by conflict. We must
ensure the safety of health workers and volunteers, many of whom work daily to track the
disease long after immunization banners have come down. We must use all the instruments of
the UN system to finish the last chapter of polio eradication," said Mr Annan.
Delegates gathered at UN headquarters in New York to galvanize the
necessary financial resources and political will to certify the world polio-free in 2005,
a target set in 1988. Spearheading the initiative are the World Health Organization,
Rotary International, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the UN
Children's Fund (UNICEF).
The meeting of over 250 Summit participants pledged to help overcome
the challenges: poliovirus will still be circulating in up to 20 countries by the end of
this year, and US $450 million in new funding is needed to conquer the disease in those
places. These 20 high-risk countries also present some of the most difficult logistical
challenges to polio eradication, including populations that are geographically isolated
and difficult to reach and, in a handful of countries, living in the midst of severe civil
Race Against Time
Symbolizing the race to beat polio, Mr Annan and Thaddeus Farrow
started a specially-designed Countdown Clock, which will tick down the number of seconds
remaining until the certification deadline at the end of 2005. The clock, donated by
international watchmaker OMEGA, will also track the decreasing number of polio cases
around the world. The number has dropped 95% since 1988, with roughly 7,000 reported cases
in1999. The Countdown Clock will be on displayed at the United Nations until the world is
WHO Director-General Gro Harlem Brundtland opened the summit by
unveiling the Strategic Plan 2001-2005, which details the steps required to stop
transmission of the wild poliovirus worldwide within the next 24 months; safely contain
laboratory stocks of the virus; certify the world polio-free by 2005; and eventually end
immunization against polio.
"We know what we have to do. We have the tools and the strategy to
do it. The challenges outlined can be surmounted, but only if current and new partners
commit their support through 2005. I urge you all to play your part in making
history," Brundtland said.
Summit co-Chair Carol Bellamy, Executive Director of UNICEF, praised
the "truly Olympian efforts" of all the partners working toward polio
eradication, but stressed that complacency or fatigue would jeopardize the initiative.
"Reaching our goals will require inspired teamwork from all of
us," Bellamy told the polio partners. "Transporting fresh polio vaccine from the
plants where it is manufactured to the remote regions where it is needed is a relay race
requiring many hands. At the starting line of that relay are the vaccine producers who
must continue to ensure timely production," Bellamy said.
In an example of the extraordinary international cooperation to wipe
out polio, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo who spoke to the summit in a video
address committed his vast African nation of 120 million people to a region-wide
surge in eradication activities that will cover 17 countries in west and central Africa
next month. The "synchronized" immunization campaign seeks to reach 70 million
children under age five in a single week, and is the largest regional health initiative
ever undertaken in Africa.
"We, the leaders of Africa, call on support from every sector
within our countries, and from around the world to ensure we take advantage of this
tremendous opportunity," President Obasanjo said.
Turner, who is also Chair of the philanthropic UN Foundation, committed
to help raise funds. Frank Devlyn, President of Rotary International which has members in
163 countries, pledged to support fundraising and provide additional volunteers for the
increasingly intense house-to-house immunization efforts that have become key to reaching
every child with polio vaccine. Rotary is the leading private sector partner in the
Initiative, having contributed $378 million to the effort to date and committing a total
of US $500 million by 2005.
Turner and Devlyn appealed to global corporations and individual
philanthropists to help close the funding gap. They said they planned to travel to major
cities around the world to ask foundations, corporations and individuals for donations of
US $1 million or more.
"The cost of failure will far outweigh the funds we are now
seeking," Devlyn said. "This eighteen- month private sector campaign will
solicit funds to support National Immunization Days, surveillance and other projects that
directly affect the eradication of polio."
Added Turner: "Once polio is eradicated and we can stop immunizing
children against this scourge, the world will save US $1.5 billion dollars every year in
immunization costs. Investing in polio eradication now is just good business."
Mia Farrow, A UNICEF Representative for polio, recounted her personal
experiences of polio: "In the middle of my ninth birthday I crumpled to the ground
and couldn't get up
It was 1954 and a polio epidemic was sweeping the
nation," said Farrow. "Thaddeus is here with me today to show our support for
this major initiative."
U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Dr. Donna E. Shalala was
also in attendance. Speaking about the responsibility of the industrialized world in
supporting the polio countdown, she said: "Eradicating this disease, which knows no
borders, is the responsibility of all of us. We must continue to fund this programme, and
we must begin the search of every laboratory so we can find and safely contain the
Also at the Summit, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent
movement pledged to help fundraise, and committed its workers in the field to helping
deliver oral polio vaccine to children living in the most difficult circumstances, many of
whom may never have had access to any kind of public health care.