Peter Salk and Aseefa Zardari never met before today, but they have an odd and very significant thing in common: both of them were inoculated against polio by one of their parents. In the case of Salk, of course, it was his father Jonas, who administered his just-developed vaccine to himself, his lab workers and his family even before it was formally approved and released. Aseefa’s inoculator was her mother, the late Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, assassinated in 2007.
“I have a picture of my wife immunizing our daughter 18 years ago,” said Asif Zardari, the current President and Aseefa’s father, at a United Nations gathering this afternoon. “My martyred wife told the world she dreamt of a world in which all children are free of disease.”
Father, daughter and Salk had come to the U.N. as part of a new international push to eradicate polio once and for all, and they were hardly alone. Also in attendance were U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon; Afghan President Hamid Karzai; Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan; Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard; U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius; and — significantly — Bill Gates, head of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. All of them and others addressed a plenary session of the U.N.’s Economic and Social Council, and all of them had a single promise: by 2015, if not earlier, polio would join smallpox as the only diseases in human history to be finally and fully snuffed out in the wild.