New York Public Library, New York

20 September 2016

Secretary-General's message to event on "Polio Past and Present: Global Progress since the 1916 New York Polio Outbreak"

[Delivered by Dr. Margaret Chan, Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO)]

I send my warmest greetings to everyone participating in this important meeting.

We are a fortunate generation.

One hundred years ago, this country was in the grip of a polio outbreak that affected 27,000 people. Nine thousand of those cases were in New York City, causing a wave of panic throughout that summer.

Public meetings and celebrations were cancelled. Children were banned from crowded places. Hundreds of thousands of information leaflets were distributed advising people to take precautions.

Because that was all they could do:take precautions, and hope for the best.

Today, progress in eradicating polio is one of the greatest success stories of the past quarter-century. Polio cases have been reduced by 99 per cent. From hundreds of cases each year, now there are fewer than two dozen.

We are working hard to eradicate the disease from the final three countries that are still affected: Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan.

The results in human terms are enormous. Millions of people who would have been paralyzed are living productive and fulfilling lives.

And in financial terms, it is estimated that by 2035, polio eradication will have saved more than $50 billion around the world.

Excellencies,&nbspLadies and gentlemen,

The development of the polio vaccine by Jonas Salk and his team in the 1950s was a major step.

But the eradication of polio has been made possible by social, economic, educational and humanitarian progress, all around the world.

Polio is being beaten by improved literacy, better standards of living and stronger health systems by technical, operational, political and financial innovations.

It shows us what can be achieved with coordinated efforts, public-private partnerships and common goals.&nbsp

That is the thinking behind the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, agreed by all countries last year to build a better future for people, planet, peace, prosperity and partnership.

The Global Polio Eradication Initiative is a model that shows how operational and technological innovation can deliver general solutions that can be adapted to specific contexts.

It demonstrates how political commitment can be sustained in support of common goals that benefit everyone. And it shows how we can harness the combined power of public authorities, business leaders, religious figures, educators and more to create partnerships that make a real difference to our world.

The Sustainable Development Goals are a long road which we will walk together.

Eradicating polio will be a milestone of success on that road.

The United Nations and our partners are committed to maintaining the momentum and reaching that milestone as soon as possible.

Thank you, and I wish you a successful meeting.