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It's Not How You Start, It's How You Finish: The Last Mile in the Race Against Polio

On World Polio Day, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Rotary International cohosted a live media briefing at CDC to highlight historic progress in the bid to eradicate polio worldwide.
Thanks to intense vaccination campaigns, the world now boasts the fewest polio cases in the fewest countries, ever. According to Tom Frieden, MD, MPH, the Director of the CDC, Atlanta, Georgia, “the last mile of eradication is often the hardest.” However, although this is also true with respect to polio, he emphasized that the day will come when polio is history. “Eradication of polio is achievable,” he said, stressing the need for organizations such as those involved in the global polio eradication initiative to work together to reach common goals against the virus. UNICEF is one of the key organizations in this global initiative.
Speaking at the news briefing, Reza Hossaini, the Director of Polio Eradication at UNICEF, also highlighted the substantial progress that has been made toward achieving a polio-free world. He described the significant efforts of “countless frontline workers, and vaccinations reaching to the remotest corners of the world, often in very, very dangerous circumstances, to immunize countless numbers of children.” As a result of this continued work, about 2.5 billion children have received the polio vaccine since the campaign started, he added.
Nevertheless, he also underlined the need for these efforts to continue, even after the virus is eradicated. “We have to reach every single child—no matter where,” he said, “whether in an isolated area of Myanmar, or in areas of Borno where we have not been able to reach children because of the inaccessibility.” Discussing the additional financial resources that are needed to continue the fight against polio, Hossaini stressed that about 50% of these costs will help to ensure a high level of immunity among children, and the other 50% will help to sustain the gain after interrupting the wild virus: a strong surveillance system will be essential, he concluded.
Closing out the news briefing, Dennis Ogbe shared his unique perspective as both a polio survivor and Paralympic athlete. Ogbe was born in Nigeria and contracted malaria when he was 3-years-old. While he was hospitalized, he also contracted poliovirus, which left him paralyzed from the waist down.
Determined not to let this stop him from playing soccer with the children in his village, Ogbe would head out in his wheelchair to play. When the children saw him approach, they would move to higher ground to avoid him. Still undeterred, Ogbe would use his crutches and calipers and try to follow them. He said the children would take away his crutches and say, “Dennis, if you can take one step, you can play with us.” When he took one step, they then said, “Dennis, if you can take two steps, you can play with us.” Little by little, driven by their taunts, he started to take more and more steps.
At the same time, Ogbe said his father decided that education would be his son’s saving grace, and had told him, “It’s not how you start that matters, it’s how you finish.” His father put him to school at an early age, even though conditions in their village made it difficult for Ogbe to even get to school—the access road was unpaved, making it difficult to reach the school in a wheelchair.
Ogbe also became involved in sports at school. He exercised in whatever way he could, including by using auto parts as weights for training. He also improvised when necessary. For example, Ogbe said he played soccer, but because he could not run, he played goalkeeper.
Eventually, he began competing with others with disabilities, in events such as shotput, discus, and javelin. Ogbe competed locally and nationally, and ultimately represented Nigeria in the Paralympic Games. And, after meeting an athletic coach for the US Paralympic Team, Ogbe was eventually offered a sports scholarship in the United States.
Now, Ogbe has an undergraduate degree in business and an MBA. He is also a US citizen and first represented the United States in the London 2012 Paralympic Games. As an advocate for polio eradication, and an ambassador for the United Nations Foundation’s Shot@Life campaign to promote childhood immunizations, Ogbe urged the audience to remember those with polio who either died young or are still suffering: “Look at me, look at my life, look at what I‘ve done—I’ve survived it; I’m lucky, but there are a lot of people who didn’t make it.”
Although the fight to eradicate polio has been a long one, Ogbe emphasized that with the help of organizations like Rotary International, UNICEF, and the United Nations Foundation’s Shot@Life Campaign, it is now almost over.
Dr. Parry graduated from the University of Liverpool, England in 1997 and is a board-certified veterinary pathologist. After 13 years working in academia, she founded Midwest Veterinary Pathology, LLC where she now works as a private consultant. She is passionate about veterinary education and serves on the Indiana Veterinary Medical Association’s Continuing Education Committee. She regularly writes continuing education articles for veterinary organizations and journals, and has also served on the American College of Veterinary Pathologists’ Examination Committee and Education Committee. 
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