As 2016 draws to a close and we are about to jump into the new year, I thought I would spend a moment reflecting on what we have done over the past year, where we are, and what should be the focus of our work over the coming year.

In 2016, the polio eradication programme has accomplished a lot!

-    Over the past year, the world has reported less cases of paralytic polio disease caused by the wild virus than anytime ever before: 35 Cases (as of 22 December)! less than half of the 74 cases reported in 2015;
-    Highly committed and dedicated staff in the field have accessed and facilitated access to the most difficult places of the world, often at the risk of their lives. Thanks to this dedication, the programme has reached 100's of millions of children, some of which would otherwise not have ever been reached by any health service.
-    155 countries have successfully implemented the globally synchronized Switch from trivalent OPV to bivalent OPV over a two week period; and we are tracking down any possibly remaining vial of tOPV;
-    Our surveillance and laboratory networks have intensified their efforts to rapidly detect and report any event of relevance to the programme, from both AFP cases and the expanding number of environmental surveillance sites. This includes, since September, the notification of any Sabin type 2 virus which could be, in some cases, hinting to the continued use of tOPV;  
-    We have continued to innovate, with new strategies, new immunization schedules, new injection devices, making use of satellite imagery to identify population settlements;
-    We have launched a very attractive revamped web site! This is only one of the many impressive communication products that have come out over the past year and have successfully contributed to the ongoing worldwide support to the programme;
-    We have secured substantial amounts of funding which enable continued operations thanks to very committed and generous donors who support the programme;
-    We have expended, tracked,  accounted for and reported on the use of 100's of millions of US$;
-    We have identified, recruited, deployed and supported hundreds of staff, consultants, STOPpers and processed their travel, salaries and travel claims.

Where are we?

You should have no doubt, we are close! We are very close ! ...but we are not there yet
-    Transmission of the wild polio virus is on-going, in a very limited number of places, with decreasing generic diversity... However the virus is continuing to fight for its survival and it is finding ways to hide and escape.
-    We are facing a severe shortage of IPV and, together with our EPI and UNICEF colleagues, we are managing the very tight supply to mitigate risks;  
-    While we are close to the completion of the endgame, the implementation of containment requirements is lagging but we now have the mechanisms in place to accelerate the pace ;
-    Transition planning in priority countries and globally is behind schedule but it is now picking up momentum;
-    We are faced with two cVDPV2 outbreaks, in Sokoto, Nigeria and in Quetta, Pakistan, but in both cases we are aggressively responding with mOPV2.

What should be our focus over the next year?

This is not the time to release our pressure on the virus.
We must:
-    Redouble efforts to interrupt transmission in Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan and ensure that the few remaining viruses do not spread to other parts of the world!
-    be even more rigorous than ever before in our focus on Quality;
-    ensure full transparency of the programme and the highest levels of accountability. This is the only way that our committed donors will be able to continue to financially support the programme;
-    further improve the quality and timeliness of AFP and environmental surveillance, the quality of the samples and of the reverse cold chain;
-    continue to challenge ourselves, accept criticism, question the validity of what we do, allow ourselves and partners to think out of the box, while continuing to focus on the well-known fundamentals of the programme.
-    We must not leave any stone unturned ! As we get closer to our goal, we must track down the virus wherever it may hide, and we know it will be hiding;

Dear colleagues,
You can be proud of what you have accomplished. The hard work must continue until the very end.
I realise that for many of you, this means more, harder work in very difficult places, more demands on you, on your energy and on your families.
I thank you for your extraordinary dedication.

We are all together in this extraordinary enterprise and together we will succeed.
Together we will eradicate polio.
Polio will be eradicated!

I am looking forward to our collective 2017 achievements.
I wish you and your family a very happy Holiday Season
May 2017 bring you and your loved ones Happiness, Joy and good Health, in Peace.