Following on from the global announcement that a second of three strains of wild poliovirus has now been eradicated, the UK government has pledged up to £400 million worth of support to help eliminate the disease for good.
The funding, which was announced today by International Development Secretary, Alok Sharma, will help vaccinate more than 750 children a minute against polio.
This new package of UK aid, which will go towards the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), will support 20 million health workers and volunteers to deliver potentially life-saving vaccinations to 400 million children per year around the world between 2020 and 2023.
Polio is a debilitating disease which mainly affects children under the age of 5 and can cause paralysis and even death.
The announcement has been welcomed by Rotary in Great Britain and Ireland President, Donna Wallbank: “We are over the moon that this support is being given and it is another significant step in the right direction.
“It is vitally important that vaccination levels are maintained, especially in hard to reach areas which are experiencing geo-political unrest and are most at risk.
“This pledge is a huge vindication of all the effort that Rotary clubs and volunteers have made across the country by hosting events and raising awareness, not only on World Polio Day last month, but for years.”
Rotary pioneered efforts to eradicate the disease over 30 years ago and since then, the formation of the GPEI, which consists of Rotary, UNICEF, the World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Gates Foundation, has helped the incidence of polio plummet by more than 99.9%.
Although the UK has been free from polio since the 1980s, the country has been one of the largest governmental supporters of the GPEI, with today’s announcement bringing the total contribution given to ending polio to £1.7 billion since 1995.
This pledge is a huge vindication of all the effort that Rotary clubs and volunteers have made across the country.”
Support of the efforts to eradicate polio have always gained significant cross-party backing, and the announcement today, prior to parliament being suspended, means the upcoming election will not affect the funding.
Alok Sharma, who commended Rotary’s End Polio Now campaign at a recent World Polio Day event, said: “We have made tremendous progress to fight this debilitating disease, but our work must continue if we are to eradicate it for ever.
“That’s why I am committing fresh support to help immunise 400 million children a year around the world.”
Bill Gates, Co-chair of the Gates Foundation, who joined the GPEI in 2000 said: “We have the ability to wipe polio off the face of the planet. But that will require more support.
“I’m excited to see the UK leading the way on this front. Their generosity will make a huge difference in eradicating this disease once and for all.”
On World Polio Day 2019 (24th October), it was announced that wild poliovirus type 3 (WPV3) has been eradicated worldwide.
Polio survivors Dave and Sue are passionate about ending polio for good
New #UKaid support will help vaccinate more than 750 children a minute against polio in developing countries around the world
— DFID (@DFID_UK) November 5, 2019
WPV3 is only the third infectious human disease-causing pathogen to be eradicated in history, following smallpox and wild poliovirus type 2.
This achievement means that two of the three wild polio strains have now been wiped out, an important marker of progress against the disease.
That news came on the heels of the milestone that Nigeria, one of the three remaining polio-endemic countries, had gone three years without a case of wild poliovirus, meaning the whole of Africa could be certified polio-free in 2020.
If we were to pull back on immunisations, we could see 200,000 new cases each year in a decade.”
Despite the large successes this year, the number of cases in Pakistan and Afghanistan (77 and 19 respectively) have been higher than in recent years, indicating challenges still remain.
However, as Alok Sharma explains, it is important we don’t stop now: “If we were to pull back on immunisations, we could see 200,000 new cases each year in a decade. This would not only be a tragedy for the children affected and their families, but also for the world. We cannot let this happen.”