Polio Eradication Pioneer and Leader Dr Chan Retires from WHO

GPEI offers sincere thanks for her ten-year leadership, which brought the world to the threshold of being polio-free.

© WHO/ L. Cipriani

In her very first address to all Ministers of Health, partners and stakeholders at the World Health Assembly in 2006, the new Director-General elect Dr Margaret Chan made it clear that polio eradication would be one of her main priorities.  Indeed, under her leadership, the effort would become WHO’s number 1 operational priority.

Polio has been reduced globally with only six cases reported from two countries as of June 2017, down from nearly 2000 cases in 17 countries in 2006 when she became Director General.  But as Dr Chan herself says, these are still six cases too many.

Every year, more than 450 million children are vaccinated around the world and protected for life against this disease.  India, once thought of as the most technically-challenging place from where to eradicate polio, became polio-free, along with the rest of the South-East Asia Region.  One strain of wild poliovirus (type 2) has been globally certified as eradicated.

Dr Chan’s leadership has seen a revolution take place in the effort to eradicate polio, resulting in major impact:

  • A brand-new vaccine, bivalent oral polio vaccine, was developed as a more powerful tool to stop the virus
  • New strategic oversight and accountability mechanisms were put in place, as overseen by a specifically-established global Independent Monitoring Board.
  • The global effort was declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern under the International Health Regulations.
  • A globally-agreed strategic roadmap was put in place to not only eradicate polio but secure its lasting success.

All this, Dr Chan achieved in close coordination with the heads of agencies of the other spearheading partners in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, namely Rotary International, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), UNICEF and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and most importantly of all in close collaboration with all Member States.

“On behalf of the GPEI, and most importantly on behalf of the millions of children who can walk as a result of her efforts, we would like to thank her for her passion, leadership, engagement, enthusiasm and inspiration.  Over the last ten years, she has led this effort and the world to the threshold of being polio-free,” said Michel Zaffran, Director of the Polio Eradication Department at WHO, speaking on behalf of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the new WHO Director-General elect who takes over from Dr Chan on 1 July, has vowed to follow in Dr Clan’s footsteps and strive to lead this effort over the threshold.  Travelling to Atlanta, USA, earlier this month to address more than 30,000 Rotarians gathered at the annual Rotary Convention, Dr Tedros said:  “The end of polio is now in sight.  This is the most critical moment of covering the last mile. We must keep our eyes firmly on the final goal.”

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