Remarks by H.E. Zahir Tanin, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Afghanistan to the United Nations at Rotary district 5790’s
End Polio Now Dinner
Ladies and Gentleman,
It is a pleasure to join you all here this evening at the End Polio Now Dinner. I would like to thank Assistant Governor, Christopher McLucas and his colleagues for inviting me to address you on the topic of eradicating Polio in my country, Afghanistan, and worldwide along with other distinguished speakerssuch as Deputy Consul General Kapur of India, one of our close neighbors. I applaud Rotary International District 5790 for their personal dedication to this very important issue.
When we speak of Polio in the United States, the first thought to come to mind might be American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, one of the disease’s most famous victims. The next most likely topic would be the Polio vaccine and the millions of people worldwide that it has protected. Polio is often discussed as a horrible memory in the distant past, a disease which modern science has triumphed. Rarely, if ever, does the conversation turn to the current state of the virus in countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria. In these countries and others, Polio does not merely conjure up memories of the past: it is a present day reality. Children in my country are still losing their livelihoods and futures to the virus. It is robbing Afghan children of their lives before they ever begin.
We have the unique opportunity to eradicate Polio worldwide. There are very few diseases that are so devastating yet so preventable, and we must take the final steps to ensure that we rid humanity of this terrible virus.All the indicators about the future of our fight against Polio are encouraging. Internationally, the presence of Polio has decreased by 99% since the beginning of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative in 1988. More recently, we have seen specific countries make historic progress in eradicating Polio. Earlier this year, India was removed from the Polio endemic list. This was accomplished with a comprehensive effort and the tireless dedication of more than two million volunteers over the course of recent years.The time has come to reproduce these efforts in Afghanistan and other countries. The goal is not to continue to shorten the Polio endemic list but to eliminate the list altogether. I believe that the political will exists for this to happen, and I know that we have the necessary technology and organizational capacity; that has already been proven. We can do this. We must do this.
Despite our appropriate optimism, we must also be aware that our battle against Polio is liable to experience setbacks. Many public health experts have expressed their concern that carriers of the disease are still present throughout the world, including countries in which the disease has been eradicated. Carriers of Polio can lead to a reemergence of the disease if we are not diligent in our preparation. We cannot allow our vaccination efforts to stall. As encouraged as I am to find only three countries on the Polio Endemic List, I remind you that some states have suffered outbreaks after years of being free of Polio and have consequently found their way back onto the Polio Endemic List.
Afghanistan and Pakistan, in their fight against Polio have the additional challenge of insecurity. The ongoing conflict in our region is a serious impediment to the eradication of Polio; it’s not only the physical lack of access for health workers that poses a problem, it is also extremist groups trying to stop vaccinations in villages and towns as they find the presence of health workers not favorable to their political ideas. The important link between stability and vaccination efforts cannot be ignored.We will need to continue to work with the international community to ensure security, which in turn will ensure that our efforts towards Polio eradicationwill be successful.
Polio is an international problem that requires an international solution. As has been discussed tonight, the progress we have made in the last twenty-five years has been made by a coordinated effort of governments, international institutions, and particularly Rotary.
We must not think that Polio is an issue only for the developing world, it is a global problem. We will need continued North-South cooperation, South-South cooperation between governments and UN agencies in the fight against Polio. As we have seen with other diseases, such as the recent Cholera outbreak in Haiti, the presence of a disease on one continent can cause an outbreak in another hemisphere. In today’s globalized world, an outbreak of Polio in the Democratic Republic of Congo, like the one that occurred in 2010, is liable to cause a global outbreak. Polio knows no national boundaries, and neither should our work to eradicate it.
At the United Nations, my colleagues and I often discuss the idea of sustainability. We focus on sustainability as it relates to the environment, economic development, and numerous other issues. I believe that the time has come to make the concept of sustainability a mainstream issue in our mission to eradicate Polio. Not only do we need to eradicate Polio right now, but we also need to ensure that we can contain and respond to any future outbreaks. We must have a coordinated effort from WHO, UNICEF, and other relevant UN agencies to prepare a comprehensive plan to effectively respond to any future recrudescence. The vaccines and medication must be ready to be sent with volunteers to any site, anywhere in the world, at any time.
I am confident that the international community is up to the challenge of eradicating Polio. We all look forward to a world free from Polio which will be marked by two key developments: a blank list of Polio endemic countries, and a corps of volunteers that is ready to mobilize with the necessary resources on moment’s notice to curtail a Polio outbreak anywhere in the world.This definition of success might be ambitious, but I believe that this is what must be done to truly “end Polio” once and for all. The consequences of eradicating Polio will extend far beyond the immediate health benefits. The procedures and tactics used can be a model for combatingmany other public health issues, ranging from Cholera to malaria, and even HIV/AIDS. The End of Polio will also mark the beginning of a new era in global public health.