Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 1 June 2020

Global health officials tell of final push to eliminate polio as Sheikh Mohamed is praised for efforts

Polio Pledging event in Abu Dhabi will again raise funds to help eradicate disease

Health workers administer polio vaccines to children in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Muhammad Sadiq / EPA
Health workers administer polio vaccines to children in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Muhammad Sadiq / EPA

More than $3 billion is needed to completely eliminate polio worldwide, an official from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation said.

Jay Wenger, director of the polio eradication programme at the foundation, said political and financial support was more than ever vital to eradicate the debilitating disease.

Since the launch of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative more than three decades ago, cases have dropped by 99.9 per cent, but this year saw the highest number of infections in Pakistan since 2015, indicating that the final push is the hardest.

Mr Wenger said the Polio Pledging event at the Reaching the Last Mile Forum in Abu Dhabi next month was pivotal to rallying support. His comments came as Bill Gates sent a note of thanks to Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed forces, for his role in tackling the condition.

The biennial forum, meanwhile, convenes global health leaders to share insights and best practices on how to map out, eliminate and eradicate infectious diseases.

Such events ensure that "we continue to vaccinate and protect over 400 million children a year against polio and end all forms of poliovirus everywhere", Mr Wenger told the state news agency Wam.

"The UAE has not only been a historical partner and donor to the programme, but has played a critical role in eradication efforts through its Pakistan Assistance Programme to deliver the polio vaccine to some of the most difficult areas of the country."

So far this year, 72 new cases of polio have been recorded in Pakistan, an increase from the 33 incidences last year.

Mr Wenger said mobile populations, community fatigue, insecurity in certain areas, and in some cases, vaccine misinformation resulting in parents refusing to vaccinate their children could have led to this increase.

"Pakistan now accounts for 80 per cent of all wild polio cases globally and Afghanistan is the only other country where wild poliovirus is circulating," he said.

To address these obstacles the the initiative has devised an Endgame Strategy 2019-2023.

Mr Wenger said the intiative was "continuing to learn and adapt in the face of adversity, as it has done throughout its history.

"We are confident that we can get the job done,” he said.

The UAE has been at the forefront of efforts to eliminate the disease. Sheikh Mohamed personally donated more than Dh600 million towards the cause.

On Thursday, World Polio Day, the World Health Organisation's Pakistan office praised Sheikh Mohamed’s “strong commitment” to eradicating polio.

"Pakistan's historic progress to end polio would not be possible without the strong commitment of partners like Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed and the UAE," the office said on Twitter

The global health charity Rotary International also took to Twitter to acknowledge his efforts against the disease.

"Thank you for your continued support in the fight to end polio," the charity said, tagging Sheikh Mohamed and the Gates Foundation.

On Thursday, Sheikh Mohamed tweeted a video showing vaccines being administered in Pakistan.

World Polio Day was established by Rotary International to commemorate the birth of Jonas Salk, who led the first team to develop a vaccine against polio.

Every year, Rotary International, WHO and other partners in the initiative celebrate people and organisations that have brought the world closer to polio eradication.

Updated: October 25, 2019 11:22 AM



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