A movement is growing. Thousands of Americans are rising up and demanding to see the end of polio. From Colorado to Texas, Florida to New York, a new generation of global citizens are educated about development issues and are eager for their government to join them in tackling issues—like polio—that trap people in extreme poverty.
Americans have a lot to be proud of when it comes to our role in the global effort to end polio. American scientists created the first polio vaccines, and the United States Federal Government is the largest public donor to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), the world’s largest public-private health coalition. Formed in 1988 to end polio forever, the GPEI was spearheaded by the World Health Organization, UNICEF, Rotary International and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Since 1988, the GPEI has successfully reduced polio cases by more than 99 percent. Type 2 polio was wiped out in 1999, and there has not been a single case of wild poliovirus type 3 in over four months. India was removed from the list of polio-endemic countries in 2012, and it has just been confirmed that the Democratic Republic of the Congo has put a stop to its re-established transmission of polio.
At a time when congress is largely seen as incapable of working together, polio has seen unprecedented bi-partisan support. Last summer, the Senate unanimously passed S.Res.473, which commended the efforts of Rotary International to prevent and eradicate polio. The Resolution, sponsored by Senator Kirk (R-IL) and Senator Durbin (D-IL), encouraged continued commitment and funding by the United States to the global effort to rid the world of polio. In September of 2012, world leaders met at the United Nations in New York City and pledged to work together to end polio once and for all. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, a long-time advocate for polio eradication, represented the United States federal government at the event. “We are committed to eradicating polio and providing a legacy of freedom from fear of polio for future generations,” she said.
I have spent the past year leading The End of Polio campaign in the United States and have spoken to Rotary Clubs, community groups, and universities across the country. The End of Polio campaign, organized by the Global Poverty Project, is working to build a grassroots movement to maintain U.S. support to end polio. The campaign has circulated a petition calling on world leaders to increase funding for polio eradication. The petition has been signed by 39,734 people to date.
On April 8th, a committed group of activists, alongside a polio survivor and a Nigerian health worker, will deliver the petition to 21 members of the Senate. In 2012, the U.S. provided over $133 million in funding for polio eradication, and contributed technical expertise and laboratory support through the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This petition serves as a call to the U.S. government to maintain its global leadership in the fight against polio.
We are closer than ever to seeing the end of polio. Now is the time to hold our elected leaders to account. It is time for the United States government to increase support for the GPEI by committing an additional $50 million annually to ensure that no more children suffer from polio. As now Secretary of State John Kerry said, “With the eradication of this disease well within our reach, now is the time to step up our efforts and end it once and for all.”
Judith Rowland is the U.S. Campaigns Associate for the Global Poverty Project, an international education and advocacy organization working to catalyze the movement to end extreme poverty, best known for the 2012 Global Citizen Festival in Central Park, NYC on September 29, 2012.