World Polio Day: UAE says polio on verge of eradication in Pakistan as it resumes oral vaccine

Thousands of healthcare workers carry out a door-to-door campaign to deliver the oral polio vaccine in Pakistan

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The UAE has resumed its door-to-door polio vaccine campaign in Pakistan as it seeks to eradicate the virus once and for all.

Inoculation drives were halted due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but officials said the goal of wiping out the disease was within reach.

World Polio Day is marked on October 24, in recognition of the devastation the virus once caused to communities and the efforts of medics to prevent it.

In 2011, my wife Melinda and I began working with Sheikh Mohamed on a big global health project. We wanted to eradicate polio

Polio is a disabling and life-threatening disease caused by the poliovirus.

The virus is highly infectious and attacks a person's spinal cord, causing paralysis.

In July, the UAE was the first country to resume its vaccination programme during the coronavirus pandemic.

Authorities in the Emirates said the programme took off with the help of 106,000 frontline workers, including doctors and nurses, and more than 25,000 security officers.

Healthcare workers gave 28 million vaccine doses to more than 16 million children in Pakistan from July to September this year.

Figures published last year by the World Health Organisation showed that polio cases dropped by more than 99 per cent since 1988, from an estimated 350,000 cases to 22 reported cases in 2017.

But the disease has not been eradicated in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Nigeria has been declared free of polio.

But the disease can resurface in some countries if children are not vaccinated, experts said.

Pakistan reported 147 cases in 2019 and 77 in 2020, according to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.

Since 2014, the UAE's vaccination project has delivered 483 million doses of polio vaccine and immunised more than 86 million children in Pakistan.

Since 2011, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, has pledged more than $250 million to support efforts to eradicate polio.

Last year, Sheikh Mohamed hosted the Global Polio Eradication Initiative in Abu Dhabi that raised more than $2.6 billion.

In 2018, Bill Gates wrote an editorial highlighting the important work done by Sheikh Mohamed.

“In 2011, my wife Melinda and I began working with Sheikh Mohamed on a big global health project. We wanted to eradicate polio and ensure that all children were immunised against it and other diseases,” Mr Gates wrote.

“Seven years later, polio is on the verge of eradication. The world has only witnessed 18 new cases of wild polio in 2018, and that’s in no small part thanks to the generosity of the UAE and its support to get vaccines to children in hard-to-reach parts of Pakistan.”

Frontline health workers, who give polio vaccines to children, abide by Covid-19 safety measures.

They educate families about the polio virus and the importance of being immunised.

“EPC has reached out to millions of children. We know there is still work ahead to ensure every child has a healthy future and we remain committed to eradicating this disease," said Abdullah Khalifa Al Ghafli, director of the UAE Pakistan Assistance Programme.

Authorities in the UAE will run awareness campaigns this week.

Major landmarks in the capital will also light up to support the fight against polio and honour the heroes of the Emirates Polio Campaign.