Further US$3.27 billion needed to support polio eradication

  • Thursday 24, October 2019 04:38 PM
  • Further US$3.27 billion needed to support polio eradication
Sharjah 24 – WAM: To make polio eradication a reality, an additional US$3.27 billion in support is needed, said an official from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Jay Wenger, Director of the Polio Eradication Programme at the Gates Foundation, said that it is vital that the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, GPEI, receives renewed political and financial support from governments and donors globally.

The Gates Foundation official’s remarks come on World Polio Day, marked annually on 24th October.

World Polio Day recognises the launch of the GPEI more than three decades ago, and how polio cases have dropped by 99.9 percent, but also highlights the importance of the need to eradicate the disease, once and for all.

Wenger went on to note the upcoming Polio Pledging event at the Reaching the Last Mile Forum in Abu Dhabi next month, as a "pivotal" event to rally such support.

Earlier this year, G20 Leaders met in Osaka, Japan, to discuss major challenges facing the world and the importance of eradicating polio, where they declared, "We reaffirm our commitment to eradicate polio as well as to end the epidemics of AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria and look forward to the success of the sixth replenishment of the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria."

The biennial Reaching the Last Mile Forum convenes global health leaders to share insights and best practices on how to map out, eliminate and eradicate infectious diseases. Held under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, this year's forum is themed, ‘Accelerating the Pace’ and hopes to ensure full financing and implementation of the efforts to finish the job.

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," he told the Emirates News Agency, WAM.

Commenting on the collaboration efforts between the UAE and the Gates Foundation, Wenger said, "The Foundation is proud to partner with the UAE across a number of initiatives to eliminate diseases."

"On polio," he added, "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, UAE PAP, to deliver the polio vaccine to some of the most difficult areas of the country to reach by facilitating health worker access via tribal relationships and networks."

According to the GPEI, the number of cases seen in Pakistan has significantly increased this year. So far, 88 cases of WPV1 have been recorded in Pakistan this year, compared to the 2018 total of 33.

When asked to shed light on why this increase has occurred, Wenger said that several factors contributed to the rise in wild polio cases in Pakistan this year. "Low vaccination campaign quality, mobile populations, community fatigue, insecurity in certain areas, and, in some cases, vaccine misinformation resulting in parental refusals," are some of the reasons that may have led to this increase, he explained. "Pakistan now accounts for 80 percent of all wild polio cases globally, and Afghanistan is the only other country where wild poliovirus is circulating," he added.

Despite these figures, Wenger noted the importance of recognising that Pakistan has seen increases in annual cases before, most recently in 2014. The country, he explained, successfully adapted to reduce the incidence of polio thereafter. GPEI partners continue to work closely with the government of Pakistan to address challenges to polio eradication, he added.

And while the expected announcement of WPV3 eradication is a tremendous step toward achieving a polio-free world, Wenger noted, "the last mile in eradication is proving to be the toughest, and the polio programme and its partners are facing a number of challenges to consigning polio to history."

To address these obstacles the GPEI has devised an Endgame Strategy 2019-2023, he continued.

The GPEI is "continuing to learn and adapt in the face of adversity, as it has done throughout its history," Wenger stressed, adding that through such efforts, polio has been stopped in some of the most difficult settings to deliver healthcare on earth, including war zones like Syria.

"We are confident that we can get the job done," Wenger concluded.