UNITED NATIONS, Oct. 24 (Xinhua) -- The United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) on Wednesday called for continued dedication in "finishing the job" in eradicating polio, while also applauding India for being "declared polio free" for the first time in history.
UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake said in a statement released here on World Polio Day, which falls on Oct. 24, that " fewer children than ever before suffer the debilitating effects of this cruel disease" and "for the first time in its history, this year, India was declared polio free."
However, Lake stressed that the world must continue to concentrate its efforts in reaching children that are most at risk: children with disabilities, living in extreme poverty and in conflict zones in remote areas.
"India's example shows us we can reach them. And we will reach them by working together," he said.
In his statement, Lake also applauded the eradication efforts of civil society, NGO's and country leaders who have "come so far together in the fight to end polio."
"We have the means to finish the job," he said. "We can make history. Or we can fail to seize the moment. Lest history judge us harshly, let a polio-free world be our legacy to the next generation of children."
In related development, the World Health Organization (WHO) said Wednesday that polio cases have decreased by more than 99 percent since 1988 and the reduction is the result of the global effort to eradicate the disease, UN spokesperson, Martin Nesirky, said at the daily briefing here.
Nesirky added that in 2012, only three countries - Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria - still have active polio cases, down from more than 125 countries in 1988, and "complete elimination of polio in the next five years would save more than 40 billion U.S. dollars."
The "children in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria - the three remaining polio-endemic countries - are still affected by the ravages of this virus," he said.
"In September at the UN General Assembly (UNGA), the leaders of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria, as well as government donors, civil society and the private sector all reconfirmed their commitment to rid the world of polio," the UNICEF chief said in statement.
On the sidelines of the UNGA's September general debate, the President of Pakistan Asif Ali Zardari spoke at a high-level event on polio eradication, sponsored by the United Nations and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The topic for the session, which was presided over by the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, is "Our Commitment to the Next Generation."
Lake added that, "we can see before us the finish line: the eradication of polio."
World Polio Day is observed annually on Oct. 24, which marks the birth of U.S. virologist, Jonas Salk, who was the leader of the team that invented a polio vaccine in 1955.