United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon Thursday called on U.N. member states to step up their efforts to eradicate polio. Meeting with the leaders of polio-affected countries, and global health activists during this week's U.N. General Assembly session, Ban focused on continuing efforts to eradicate the crippling viral disease, which could otherwise storm back to cause 10 million cases in the next 40 years. International donors expressed a new commitment to the end-polio campaign.
Creating a polio-free world - that is what international leaders gathered in New York said they hope to do. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon expressed his delight at the new promises by member states to step up their fight against the disease.
“One day when polio is eradicated I want everyone in this room to remember that we were here today and that we made the right commitment, we took the right action at the right time to leave a polio free world for future generation," he said.
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, center left, addresses a high-level meeting on Polio eradication at the 67th session of the General Assembly at United Nations Headquarters, in New York, Sept. 27, 2012.
Leaders of countries where polio is endemic - including Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai, Nigeria's President GoodLuck Jonathan, and Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari - said they will make polio eradication a priority:
“Afghanistan will strive hard and hard and hard and surely achieve the goal sooner rather than later," said Karzai.
“I believe that this is a war we will win," said Jonathan.
“Make a solemn pledge to make Pakistan and rest of the world polio-free," said Zardari.
Bill Gates is co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, one of the leading donors to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. Gates said he is optimistic that with the available vaccines, financial resources, and new country commitments, polio could soon be history.
“I think we have the evidence now that by all of us stepping up and doing our best work we can end the disease, [but] we need to act quickly and we need to have a comprehensive plan," said Gates.
The Global Polio Eradication Initiative is developing long-term strategies for polio endemic countries and also for high-risk polio-free countries. The initiative aims to certify polio's eradication worldwide by the year 2018.
“By 2018 to be able to certify that the world is free of polio, the last case would have occurred some considerable time before that," said Dr. Chris Elias, president of Global Development at the Gates Foundation. "But in order to have the certainty that it is gone, we need to make sure to keep up our efforts while we are strengthening surveillance and making sure that in fact there are no more cases.".
Experts estimate that wiping out polio will save the world $40 to $50 billion over the next 20 years. And they say the resources assembled to eradicate polio can also be deployed for surveillance and immunization against other preventable disease.