UAE delivers on $120m commitment to fight polio

Polio cases reach historic low as global campaign to eradicate the paralysing disease gains ground

A $120m commitment made by the crown prince of Abu Dhabi to combat polio has been completed, the Global Polio Eradication said Monday, helping to fund close to 300 million vaccines for children in Pakistan.

The pledge by Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed also funded more than 5,000 trained vaccinators in hard-to-reach areas of Pakistan, a strategy that has contributed to a 97 per cent fall in polio cases since 2014, the Geneva-based organisation said.

With the virus eradicated in much of the world, Pakistan is one of three remaining countries where it remains endemic. Imported cases from these countries threaten other developing nations, where conflict and poor sanitation can allow polio to rebound.

“This is the kind of support that will ensure we reach every last child to complete the job and to show the way to delivering health to all,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Polio is a virus that attacks the nervous system and can cause irreversible paralysis within hours. Children under the age of 5 are most at risk, but vaccination can prevent the virus being contracted.

An international campaign has cut polio cases to a record low of 22 cases in 2017 – down from 355,000 in 1988 - and the disease is now close to being only the second in history to be banished.

Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria are the last, and most challenging hotspots for the virus, with vaccination access hampered by difficult terrain and population movement.

Eradication efforts have also been undermined by opposition from militants, who say vaccination drives are a ploy to sterilize Muslim children or a cover for Western spies.

As recently as January, vaccinators in Pakistan were killed by militants who oppose the immunization of children as un-Islamic.“This is a gift not only to the children of Pakistan but to all future generations of children”

The UAE is a longtime supporter of the global polio programme. Sheikh Mohammed made his $120bn pledge at the Global Vaccine Summit in Abu Dhabi in 2013, and followed it last year with a further $30m commitment.

Through the UAE-Pakistan Alliance, and other initiatives, the Gulf state has also leveraged its diplomatic clout to access insecure regions of Pakistan and deliver immunization campaigns.

 “The UAE’s support – both as a leading donor and passionate advocate – has been critical for getting as close as we’ve ever been to making history by eradicating polio,” said Akhil Iyer, director of polio eradication at Unicef, the UN children’s fund.

“This is a gift not only to the children of Pakistan but to all future generations of children, everywhere, who are so close to the goal of being able to be born and be raised in a polio-free world.”