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Kofi Annan calls on donors to continue fight against polio at Abu Dhabi summit

The former United Nations secretary general urge global leaders to dig deeper towards the cause as another $1.5bn is needed to implement the six-year plan.

ABU DHABI // As a groundbreaking US$4 billion was donated by global leaders and philanthropists at the Global Vaccine Summit to pursue the eradication of polio, former United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan urged others to dig deeper towards the cause.

He said a further $1.5bn (Dh5.5bn) was needed to fully implement the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) - a comprehensive six-year plan to eradicate all types of polio disease, both wild poliovirus and vaccine-derived cases - simultaneously and appealed for donations across the globe to close the gap.

"The battle against polio is a cause close to my heart," Mr Annan said yesterday, the final day of the summit. "For those of our generation, it was a real threat, casting a shadow over childhood across the world. Before the development of an effective vaccine, polio paralysed and killed up to half a million people every year."

Thanks to vaccines, polio is now 99.9 per cent eradicated.

However, developing a vaccine, though essential, was not enough, said Mr Annan, 75. It had to be delivered to the children who need it.

This was the aim of the GPEI, which brings together governments, UN agencies, foundations and businesses as well as the funding and support of one million Rotarians who adopted this global cause as their own.

Only a relatively few cases, largely in communities on the fringes of society, where poverty is most acute or insecurity is greatest, remain. This, Mr Annan said, is why finally eradicating polio is so difficult. It requires the delivery of vaccines to the most marginalised of children, beyond the reach of the most basic of health services.

"We must not let any barrier prevent us from consigning this disease, like smallpox, to the history books," he said. "In doing so, we will help some of the most vulnerable children on our planet and demonstrate emphatically our belief in the equal worth of every child."

For a small cost, he said, we can save the lives of thousands of children each year and enable them to become healthy and productive members of society.

His words were echoed by Desmond Tutu, Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town. Addressing the summit via video link, he told how, as a child, he contracted polio and almost became another bleak statistic of the disease.

"Back then there was no vaccine to protect children," he said. "My parents were told they should prepare for my funeral. Fortunately, I recovered except for use of my right hand."

Archbishop Tutu said one of the greatest blessings of his life was witnessing the extraordinary development of vaccines. "My heart soars when I imagine a world where all children have access to life-saving vaccines," he said.

 

jbell@thenational.ae

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