Why CHOGM was the place to impact polio
CHOGM was the perfect global platform for governments to recommit to polio eradication efforts.
Polio is a cruel waterborne disease that attacks children and leaves them paralyzed for life. It can kill by paralyzing the lungs, which is why, before life support, polio survivors were hooked up to the infamous iron lung.
Until the early 1980’s polio was endemic globally. Now, we’re 99.9% of the way towards eradicating polio forever. And since 2011, the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) has been a key place where commitment to the end of polio has been translated into impact. In order to achieve a polio-free world by the year 2019, however (and yes, this target is achievable!), all countries will need to redouble their efforts.
This year’s CHOGM took place in Malta from 27-29 November, and was the perfect global platform for governments to renew their commitments to ending polio once and for all. Earlier this year, over 245,000 global citizens emailed, tweeted and signed petitions calling on the Prime Minister of Malta, Joseph Muscat, CHOGM 2015’s host, to put polio high on the agenda. Prime Minister Muscat listened, not only pledging to do so at the 2015 Global Citizen Festival, but also by convening a high-level meeting on polio eradication. The event was hosted during the official leaders’ retreat, a day-long gathering normally reserved for political negotiations between heads of government. This was an unprecedented move, technically “breaking the sanctity” of the retreat for the first time in over 40 years to ensure polio got the attention it deserves.
Thanks to the public pressure global citizens helped create on World Polio Day and the weeks before CHOGM, world leaders joined together to reaffirm their commitment to entirely eradicating polio at this event. Their names include: the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull of Australia, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan, Minister of Foreign Affairs Stéphane Dion of Canada, the Minister of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Hugo Swire of the UK, Rotary International President K. R. Ravindran, newly elected Commonwealth Secretary-General Designate Patricia Scotland, and Nigerian Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama.
Undoubtedly, the commitments made by world leaders at CHOGM wouldn’t have happened without the support of global citizens and Rotarians around the world. Yosola, from the Global Citizen team, was on the ground at the CHOGM event and recognized the collective impact achieved saying, “CHOGM 2015 was a fantastic opportunity to see the impact of the actions taken by thousands of global citizens, culminating in Joseph Muscat's promise to raise polio on the agenda at CHOGM on stage at the Global Citizen Festival. It highlighted the importance of public mobilization in raising the profile of issues relating to extreme poverty, and the power of public action in holding governments to account on their promises.”
CHOGM 2015 follows four years after important unity on polio by the Commonwealth's leadership during CHOGM 2011. Held in Perth, Australia, the Commonwealth Heads of Government that met there expressed their continued commitment to end polio. Australia joined Canada, the United Kingdom, Nigeria, Pakistan and Bill Gates in committing over $118 million in new funds to help deliver a polio-free world, a result very much influenced by The End of Polio Concert, held in Perth on the eve of CHOGM.
When we look back on the huge international push to rid the planet of polio since the early 1980s, the global partnership between Rotary International, UNICEF, the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation have clearly been instrumental. This partnership, known as the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, exists to educate and vaccinate millions around the world. Since its creation, and thanks to dedicated health workers and effective vaccines, 13 million people are walking today who would have otherwise been paralyzed for life.
Today there are just two countries left where polio still commonly exists: Pakistan and Afghanistan. And with the continued political and financial commitment from all countries, we have a real chance of finally making polio a disease of the past.
With the launch of the Global Goals, polio eradication has the potential to be the first hallmark milestone of this universal agenda. Ending polio is a critical step toward improving the lives of the world’s most vulnerable children. Plus, the benefits of polio eradication extend far beyond preventing a single disease. The knowledge and infrastructure built by polio eradication efforts is helping fight diseases like measles and Ebola, and will continue to support other health initiatives long after the disease is eradicated. There is arguably no better way to demonstrate that the end of extreme poverty is possible.
For this reason, we will continue working with GPEI partners to ensure governments commit funding to fill the current US $1.5 billion gap and mobilize the resources needed to end polio. No child should have to suffer from this debilitating yet preventable disease, no matter where they live.