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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 22 November 2018

Bill Gates in talks over plan to open UAE centre to eliminate diseases  

The UAE and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have opened discussions about setting up a research institute in Abu Dhabi

Bill Gates, co-founder of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, has enlisted the support of the UAE in the mission to eradicate polio. AP
Bill Gates, co-founder of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, has enlisted the support of the UAE in the mission to eradicate polio. AP

Abu Dhabi could one day be home to a global research institute set up to tackle polio and other infectious diseases and backed by Bill Gates.

The UAE and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, run by the philanthropist and business magnate and his wife, Melinda, are currently in talks about setting up a research centre in the capital that will focus on translating data and research on disease into policy across the region.

The UAE has been a partner of the foundation’s mission to eradicate polio across the world since 2011, when Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, started working with Bill and Melinda Gates on the issue.

The announcement comes as World Polio Day is marked across the globe on Wednesday.

"We look forward to leveraging Abu Dhabi’s unique talents and assets to accelerate progress on key global health issues, including polio eradication," said Dr Jay Wenger, the director of the polio eradication programme at the foundation.

"We are up against some big challenges in the places where polio still exists: conflict, insecurity, mobile populations and remote villages have made it difficult for health workers to reach all children with vaccines."

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Since 2011, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed has donated $167 million (Dh613 million) to support global efforts to eradicate the disease, with a particular focus on Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Last year alone, 13 million children were immunised against polio in Pakistan thanks to UAE donations. More than 96 million doses of the vaccine were delivered to children under five in 66 high-risk districts as a result, leading to a 98 per cent reduction in the number of children paralysed in four provinces.

The UAE is also hosting the coming Gavi – the Vaccine Alliance – mid-term review in December, which will provide an opportunity to evaluate progress on the alliance’s four-year programme to provide funding for the polio vaccination scheme, which runs from 2016 to 2020.

In 1988, there were 350,000 cases of polio in 125 countries globally.

So far this year, there have been 22 cases of polio in just two countries, Afghanistan and Pakistan, which largely occur in areas where they share a common border.

The number is nearly double that for the same period last year, when only 12 cases were reported by October.

Until this year, the number of infections had nearly halved annually since 2015.

There must be no new cases for two years for a country to be declared polio-free.

The original objective was to eliminate polio across the globe by 2000.