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The Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) on 27 March congratulated the countries in the South-East Asia Region of the World Health Organization (WHO) on being certified polio-free, a historic milestone in the worldwide effort to end polio. The 11 countries in the region are home to 1.8 billion people and represent the fourth of six WHO regions of the globe to become polio-free.

India, once deemed the most difficult place to end polio, recorded its last case on 13 January 2011, enabling completion of regional certification. Other countries such as Sri Lanka, Maldives and Bhutan have been polio-free and waiting for this day for more than 15 years.
“This is a momentous victory for the millions of health workers who have worked with governments, nongovernmental organizations, civil society and international partners to eradicate polio from the Region. It is a sign of what we can bequeath our children when we work together,” said Dr. Poonam Khetrapal Singh, regional director for the WHO South-East Asia Region.                                                                                                                      
Rotary, which has committed more than $1.2 billion to the global eradication effort, thanked health workers, governments, Rotary members and its partners in the GPEI at the official certification meeting in Delhi.
“I speak for every Rotarian when I say again what an honor it is to be a part of today’s events. We have beaten polio in South-East Asia, and now we must do the same in the rest of Asia and in Africa.
Our goal is so close, we can almost touch it,” said Rotary Foundation Chair D.K. Lee.
Rotary also received praise from Dr. Bruce Aylward, WHO assistant director-general for polio, emergencies and country collaboration. “I want to thank Rotary and their 150,000 members in the South-East Asia region for their tireless work to eliminate polio,” he said.
South-East Asia’s remarkable achievement in ending polio was made possible by unprecedented commitment from governments to hold high-quality vaccination campaigns that reached a cumulative total of 7.5 billion children over 17 years, thanks to the dedication of millions of community health workers and volunteers. Between 1995 and 2012, the polio program conducted 189 nationwide campaigns across the region and administered more than 13 billion doses of oral polio vaccine.
The region’s accomplishment marks a vital step toward the GPEI’s goal of delivering a polio-free world by 2018. Innovative approaches and new partners are driving global progress in a multi-year plan to stop transmission, improve immunization rates and make a lasting impact on child mortality. However, this progress is at risk unless polio is ended in the three countries where it has never been stopped: Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria. Recent outbreaks in the Middle East and the Horn of Africa are stark reminders that polio anywhere is a threat everywhere.  Until polio is stopped in the remaining three endemic areas, all countries need to maintain sensitive surveillance and high immunization rates to rapidly detect any importation of poliovirus and minimize its impact. Now that 80 percent of the world’s population lives in regions certified polio-free, the goal of eradication is closer than ever.