Having dedicated my career to public health, I've learned that keeping people healthy is a complex job. Medicine, sanitation, nutrition, education - all are necessary and interrelated components of preventing and curing sickness. But there is one tool that stands out as the most effective way to protect fight disease: vaccines. Every child -- no matter where he or she is born -- has a fundamental right to vaccines.
Ending polio will be the next major milestone against vaccine-preventable diseases. Polio can be prevented with no more than a few drops or a quick stick with a vaccine, and cases are nearly unknown in most of the world. There were fewer polio cases in fewer countries in 2012 than ever before, and 2013 is on track to show even better results. However, the disease continues to cripple children in Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan, where immunization efforts do not reach everyone in need.
Now is the time to harness the power of vaccines to end polio for good. Today, I'm proud to join hundreds of scientists, doctors and technical experts from around the world to endorse the Scientific Declaration on Polio Eradication. The Declaration urges full funding and implementation of the World Health Organization (WHO)'s new Eradication and Endgame Strategic Plan, which provides a clear path forward to achieve polio eradication by 2018.
I know firsthand that polio can be defeated with vaccines. As a former head of the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) immunization division, I worked with thousands of health workers to eliminate polio from the Americas by 1994. By giving priority to locating any child who had missed a scheduled immunization appointment and utilizing National Immunization Days to maximize the number of children reached, we successfully rid our communities of polio.
WHO's new strategic plan builds on these lessons learned. The plan includes improved strategies to overcome challenges on the last mile of polio eradication such as missed children, vaccine refusal and political insecurity. The plan also takes advantage of recent technological advances like GPS mapping that have greatly improved our ability to track and respond to polio outbreaks.
One of the key ways in which the plan improves on previous strategies is by adopting a comprehensive approach that concurrently addresses all the steps necessary to end polio, including interrupting wild and vaccine-derived poliovirus transmission, strengthening routine immunization and ensuring that the investments made in eradication benefit other public health priorities. That's why it's so important to fully fund the plan upfront - a projected US$5.5 billion through 2018. By being assured of funding through the projected date of eradication, the polio program can prepare for the long-term instead of being forced to fundraise year-to-year.
Actually, one of the main reasons of the success of the eradication of polio in the Region of the Americas is that the program was financed upfront by the partnership formed by PAHO, UNICEF, USAID, Rotary International and the Inter-American Development Bank, which were the spearheading partners for the initiative in the Americas.
The impact of this work will be felt first by children and families who will no longer need to fear polio, but ultimately will go far beyond eradicating one disease. Since my time at PAHO, we've known that polio efforts can be a vehicle to strengthen routine health systems that make it easier to deliver all vital vaccines and other health programs.
The true legacy of eradicating polio will be to boost immunization across the board. As eradication proceeds, WHO will begin to transfer the polio program's assets - including a state-of-the-art monitoring and surveillance system, an educated volunteer force and experience with hard-to-reach populations - to expand access to other life-saving vaccines.
We must capitalize upon the historic opportunity to eradicate polio. Success will eliminate an ancient scourge - and it will also demonstrate a global commitment to a future where children receive all of the vaccines they need and deserve.
Ciro de Quadros, M.D., M.P.H., is Executive Vice President of the Sabin Vaccine Institute and oversees Sabin's Vaccine Advocacy and Education programs. Before joining Sabin in 2003, Dr. de Quadros was the Director of the Division of Vaccines and Immunization at the Pan American Health Organization. He also served as the World Health Organization's Chief Epidemiologist for the Smallpox Eradication Program in Ethiopia from 1970 to 1976.