Reaching the Last Mile

Optimist Newspaper cover

Letter from the co-chair

The incredible progress we’ve seen in global health in recent years – a 99.9% decline in polio and a 50% drop in malaria and AIDS-related deaths – is a powerful example of the impact of partnerships.

By bringing together donors, governments, civil society and the private sector, partnerships like the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI); Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance; and The Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria have saved the lives of millions of children and improved the odds that many millions more will live a healthy, productive life.

This approach of aligning resources with the needs of the most disadvantaged is also accelerating progress against neglected tropical diseases like river blindness and lymphatic filariasis.

At this year’s Reaching the Last Mile Forum, hosted by His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, global leaders and health experts from around the world are meeting to discuss how to accelerate the pace of disease elimination.

This year is a pivotal moment for the GPEI. In the three decades since it was established, the global incidence of polio has decreased by 99.9%. But polio persists in some of the most challenging places on earth: In war zones inaccessible to vaccinators, among migrant and nomadic populations, and in communities where some people are reluctant to have their children vaccinated.

The GPEI has shown that as we get closer to zero, it knows how to innovate, adapt, and tailor its strategies to track and stop every trace of the virus – by establishing Emergency Operations Centers to coordinate all polio program activities, by creating the largest disease surveillance system in the world, and by continuously identifying new approaches to vaccinate children in hard-to-reach areas.

While the last steps are proving to be the toughest, I’m optimistic that with GPEI’s resourcefulness and determination, and the continued support of partners, donors, and government leaders, we will eradicate polio.

Achieving a polio-free world will be one of the most remarkable achievements in the history of public health. But it won’t be the only legacy the GPEI leaves behind. The GPEI has demonstrated how to mobilize political and societal support for health initiatives locally, nationally, and globally. It has proven that it’s possible to overcome geographic, cultural and gender barriers to reach vulnerable children in some of the most remote and inaccessible places on earth. It has pioneered the use of disease detection and rapid outbreak response. And it has shown how to innovate and tailor public health strategies to adapt to changing circumstances. These are just a few of the insights and lessons learned that will shape and guide other health initiatives for decades to come.

Perhaps most importantly, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, like Gavi and the Global Fund, offer a powerful example of what can be accomplished when we come together and take responsibility for one another.

- Bill Gates

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