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    For information only - not an official document.
      UNIS/SG/2673
         28 September 2000
     All Instruments of United Nations System Must Be Used to Finish
    The Last Chapter of Polio Eradication", Secretary-General Says

      NEW YORK, 27 September (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s keynote address to the Global Polio Partners Summit, which was held today at Headquarters:

     We are here today because we share the same dream:  the dream of a world that will be forever free of polio.  We are luckier than most dreamers, because we can and will make it come true within our lifetime.  For many of us, the process also began in our lifetime.  That makes the story of polio eradication one of the most remarkable in the history of mankind. 

     As the story opened, millions of children throughout the world lived under the threat of polio while their parents could only pray for a miracle cure.  Today, as Dr. Brundtland has told us, the story enters what we must make its final chapter. 

     Many, many people have helped to write this story.  Many of them are represented here today -- governments, organizations and individuals who have made polio eradication a model of public-private partnership.  We are here to resolve to finish the story together. 

     We cannot risk being complacent:  every child on this earth must be immunized against polio, so that we free the world forever from the grip of this dreadful disease. 

     To achieve that, we look to the core partnership of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the World Health Organization (WHO), the United States Centers for Disease Control and Rotary International -- all of them are represented here at the highest level.

     We look to other partners who have joined, and who have paved the way for yet others to do so:  in particular, the United Nations Foundation of Ted Turner, who I am delighted to welcome here today, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. 

     We look to governments of donor countries and of the countries affected.

     And we look to individuals everywhere to follow the heroic example of more than 10 million volunteers who, thanks to unprecedented cooperation within and beyond the United Nations system, have achieved extraordinary progress so far. 

     These public-private partnerships have not only been the key in the fight against polio.  Their work in polio eradication has also helped show us the way forward in building partnerships elsewhere:  alliances of the like-minded, coalitions of common cause, that are proving crucial in meeting the complex challenges of the twenty-first century -- from protecting the environment, to promoting human rights, to halting the spread of AIDS. 

     The global mobilization of people and resources that we have witnessed should be the envy of any movement in this globalizing age.  National immunization days have reached tens of millions of children in a single day.  By coordinating their national immunization days, African countries are optimizing their results.

     For many of these children, polio vaccination is their first contact with health care of any kind.  That first contact is an affirmation of the right of all children -- wherever they may be, whatever their circumstances, whether they live in war or in peace -- to have access to the vital services they need. 

     In war zones around the world, guns have fallen silent to allow immunization days to take place -- demonstrating that even in the most intractable of conflicts, warring parties can call a halt to destruction in the cause of life. 

     The vaccination truce is impressive, but it is not infallible.  Volunteers and national health workers have made the ultimate sacrifice so that their children might live in a world free from polio.  Let us take this moment to remember and honour them.  We must do more than just honour them with silence.  We must work to ensure that their sacrifice was not in vain -- and that others work in conditions that will not cost them their lives.

     Indeed, the story of polio eradication includes tales so moving that they are sometimes hard to believe.

     Take the story of Ali, a young man living in Somalia, a country that has had far more than its share of war, famine and epidemics.  When Ali was 15 years old, he fell ill with smallpox.  Not only did Ali survive, but thanks to another worldwide vaccination campaign, smallpox was eradicated the day Ali recovered -- for he was the last indigenous case of smallpox in the world. 

     Today, Ali is working to help eradicate polio in Somalia.  He knows how lucky he was to beat smallpox, and this is his way of giving thanks.  As Ali says, we will kick polio out too.

     And we will. 

     Friends, humankind stands on the verge of eliminating forever what was once the world's leading cause of permanent disability.  But the benefits will reach all people for all time only if we can immunize all children today.  The last phase of polio eradication is a race to reach the last child. 

     Let us try to picture that last child and hold that image in our mind.  He or she is probably under five, probably living in Africa, possibly in the midst of hunger, poverty or armed conflict.  Our race to reach this child is a race against time.  If we do not seize the chance now, the virus will regain its grip and the opportunity will elude us forever -- or at least for a very long time to come.

     Seizing it will require more days of peace.  It will mean even greater mobilization of people and funds.  It will depend on even more inclusive and innovative partnerships.  It will call for commitment at the highest level, governmentally and intergovernmentally. 

    And I am here today, on behalf of all the United Nations family, to pledge that commitment.  We must negotiate access to all children for national immunization days, particularly in the priority countries affected by conflict.  We must ensure the safety of volunteers, many of whom work daily to track the disease long after immunization banners have come down.  We must use the instruments of the United Nations system to finish the last chapter of polio eradication.

    We are here today to make a dream come true.  It is only by doing so that we will allow that last child, and succeeding generations, to write their own stories free from the scourge of polio, and to dream freely about their own future.

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