Speech: WHO Director-General Address to the Regional Committee for South-East Asia, Sixty-fifth Session
Dr Margaret Chan
Director-General of the World Health Organization
5 September 2012
“…Let me begin with some well-deserved praise. On present trends, this region is set to be declared polio-free in January 2014.
India, the skeptics said it could not be done. But you did it. You stopped wild poliovirus transmission dead in its tracks. You have silenced the critics.
You have provided definitive proof that eradication is technically feasible, and you have done so in what was arguably the most challenging of all the remaining strongholds of this virus.
This is what your experience tells the world. The poliovirus is not permanently entrenched. It is not destined to remain a perpetual threat to each new generation of children. It can indeed be driven out of existence.
I fully agree with the assessment of the Independent Monitoring Board. This is a “magnificent” achievement. The Indian government succeeded because of its passionate engagement in a mission to protect its people from a vicious disease.
I appreciate, too, the specific lessons from the Indian experience set out in your report on polio eradication.
The most critical factor for success is ownership of the programme, from the local to the national level. The Indian government owned this programme, operating as the principal source of staff and funds. Other lessons include the importance of tight-knit partnerships, constant innovation, and a relentless drive to improve quality and accountability.
The May World Health Assembly elevated polio eradication to the level of a global public health emergency. This region has the expertise, bolstered by success, to lead the world in such an emergency response.
Medical officers from India, Bangladesh, and Nepal are now directly assisting countries that are still battling polio. I urge you to continue this leadership role. We can and must win.
As the IMB report noted, polio is now at its lowest level worldwide since records began.
Public health faces some heavy challenges, some bad trouble heading our way. Any longstanding problem that can be solved, once and for all, will free much-needed capacity and resources…”