When the international community set out in 1988 to wipe polio off the face of the earth, it was an audacious move. Only once before — with the eradication of smallpox in 1974 — had humankind managed to pull off such a feat.
And yet, country by country, region by region, there has been tremendous progress in the fight against polio. Cases are down by 99.9 percent. Only two countries still have circulating wild polio virus — Afghanistan and Pakistan — and we’re seeing fewer and fewer cases there too.
How did we get this far?
1. Data. With a wealth of data, for one thing. Polio eradication as a program has very specific targets, and very specific indicators of success against those targets. In terms of tracking and measuring progress, the data makes plain where we’re succeeding and where we are not. And with this inherent measurability comes a high level of accountability.
2. Innovation. We’ve also understood that the same tactics and strategies that got us this far are unlikely to get us to our ultimate goal. In this final stretch we have learned to innovate in every part of how we approach eradication: in the way we communicate, monitor the program and track the virus — and in the use of other techniques to help contain the disease and reduce risk. Innovation has enabled us to operate more effectively in the world’s most complex environments, places where it can be particularly difficult to reach all children with the necessary vaccinations.
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