For the second time in less than six months, polio vaccine workers in Pakistan have come under fire. For the gunmen, killing health care workers has been seen as a legitimate response to a nefarious extension of Western power. And, for the CIA, faux vaccine campaigns have sometimes been justified as part of the war on terror. Both sides are wrong: denying or providing health care should never be an instrument of statecraft.
A child receives oral polio vaccine drops in Patna district, India. (Gates Foundation / flickr)
In January, India marked an incredible achievement: one year since the country's last reported case of polio. That is cause for celebration -- not just in India but around the world. Twenty years ago, there were more than 100 polio-endemic countries; now, only three remain.
Such a victory over polio seemed almost impossible just a decade ago. India's tropical climate is conducive to the survival and spread of the disease. Meanwhile, India's dense, ethnically and linguistically diverse population made it difficult for the government to reach its most at-risk citizens. So, even as the government eliminated the disease from much of the country over the past 15 years, polio hotbeds stubbornly remained.
Read more at at Foreign Affairs' Special Report: Global Public Health.
That India is free of wild polio today is a testament to the commitment of the Indian government. It invested more than $1 billion over the last decade and collaborated with community leaders, health workers, businesses, and parents to fight the disease. The success is also the product of an international partnership that brought together governments, including the United States, Japan, and Norway; nongovernmental organizations, such as Rotary International and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; and multilateral agencies, namely, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children's Fund.
I saw the fruits of that partnership firsthand in January, when I traveled to New Delhi as part of a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services delegation. We administered polio vaccine drops to children at one of many vaccination sites across India. During each of India's periodic National Immunization days, health workers collectively immunize 175 million children against polio. The victory over the disease in India has saved millions of lives from disability and death. And although the world must remain vigilant against polio to prevent its resurgence, India's success will gradually allow the nation to focus resources and experience on diseases and initiatives...