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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 December 2018

Praise for UAE's polio efforts in Pakistan as eradication fund hits $120 million

Last year saw the fewest number of cases in a disease that once crippled millions

Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, has led UAE funding efforts to support the global eradication of Polio. Courtesy Global Polio Eradication Initiative
Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, has led UAE funding efforts to support the global eradication of Polio. Courtesy Global Polio Eradication Initiative

The UAE has funded nearly 300 million polio vaccination shots for children in Pakistan.

A $120 million (Dh440.8m) pledge made by Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, in 2013 has been completed, it was announced on Monday.

Sheikh Mohammed has also pledged an additional $30 million in the fight to eliminate a disease which once killed and disabled millions, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative said.

With polio entirely eliminated in most of the world, Pakistan remains one of the last hotspots.

Last year saw the lowest number of wild polio disease cases in medical history, at just 22 cases. In Pakistan, reported cases have fallen by 97 per cent between 2014 and 2017.

While there is no cure for the disease, vaccinations can prevent it being contracted. As a result it is estimated 1.5 million childhood deaths have been prevented since 1988, while 16 million have escaped potential paralysis.

When the current polio eradication campaign started 30 years ago, polio paralysed 350,000 children every year, in 125 countries.

Through the UAE-Pakistan Alliance, the Emirates is working on the ground by funding 5,000 vaccinators, working in some of the most remote communities in the country.

Two other countries — Afghanistan and Nigeria — are still listed as having polio present, but it is Pakistan that remains the last, and toughest, challenge.

Among the issues are tribal migratory patterns, the geographical isolation of affected communities and misleading claims by extremist groups like the Taliban who have spread rumours that the vaccination programmes are actually an attempt at mass sterilisation.

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In some instances, vaccination teams have been attacked and killed as they go about their work.

The support of the UAE, a Muslim country, has helped overcome these preconceptions.

But even with an historic low number of infections, the World Health Organisation has warned that without continued support, polio could easily rebound to 200,000 case worldwide within a decade.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director of WHO, thanked the UAE and Sheikh Mohammed for their “long-term generous support and unwavering dedication to polio eradication.”

He said: “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.”

More praise came from Akhil Iyer, the director of polio eradication at Unicef, the United Nation children’s organisation, who called the UAE’s donations “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."

Mohammed Mazrouei, Undersecretary of the Crown Prince Court of Abu Dhabi, said: “The UAE’s pivotal role in eradicating polio completely is not limited to being a donor only, but extends to include its capacity to convene key groups and provide on-ground support to deliver vaccines in the highest risk areas of Pakistan.”

The Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi has worked closely with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the wider programme of disease eradication.

Last year, Abu Dhabi hosted the launch of Reaching the Last Mile, a $100 million fund to eliminate two further diseases, river blindness and lymphatic filariasis.

The UAE and Sheikh Mohammed had shown an “unwavering commitment to end polio, “said Dr Chris Elias, President of the Global Development Program, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

“We are delighted to partner with them in this effort. Without their involvement, achieving a record low number of polio cases in 2017 would not have been possible.”