UAE is a world leader in the fight against polio

Beginning with Sheikh Zayed, the country has always been generous in the fight against killer disease

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Polio was finally eradicated in the UAE in 1992 when the last case was recorded, but it did not end the fight against a disease that still cripples or kills children elsewhere every year.

Perhaps because of its early experience of disease in the years before the country was founded, the UAE has always been generous in campaigning for better health.

UAE Founding Father, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, was a pioneer, joining former US president Jimmy Carter in the fight to eradicate parasitic disease in Africa in the year polio was eradicated from the UAE.

That commitment continues today, with support for campaigns against what are known as neglected tropical diseases, malaria and, of course, polio.

Support, both practical and financial, has been given to research and vaccination campaigns by the UAE for more than a decade.

The polio virus has been eliminated everywhere but Pakistan and Afghanistan, although there are concerns it could reappear in Africa.

Vital support for millions of children

The UAE Pakistan Vaccination Assistance Programme has administered around 600 million doses of polio vaccine in Pakistan since 2014, protecting 102 million children.

Both the late President Sheikh Khalifa and President Sheikh Mohamed have been active in supporting the fight against polio.

First as Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, President Sheikh Mohamed has donated $250 million since 2014 to charities and humanitarian organisations organising polio eradication campaigns and vaccinating children.

Ten years ago, the first Global Vaccine Summit was organised in Abu Dhabi under the patronage of Sheikh Mohamed and supported by Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general at the time, and the billionaire Bill Gates.

An outstanding success, the summit was attended by more than 300 world leaders, health and development experts, philanthropists and leading businessmen.

In just two days, $4 billion was promised to fund a plan to end polio in six years, with Mr Gates praising the UAE leader as “dynamic” and "risk taking".

A decade later that six-year deadline has passed and polio is still with us, although much reduced. Pakistan has so far recorded more than 20 cases in 2022 and Afghanistan two, although that picture may be clouded by the Taliban takeover. At least in Nigeria it has finally been eliminated.

The UAE’s support, though, is undiminished.

Last year the country announced an additional $9.5 million for door-to-door campaigns in Pakistan with $376,000 for protective equipment against Covid-19 for health workers.

At this year’s summit of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, UAE Minister of Health and Prevention Abdul Rahman Al Owais reiterated the country’s commitment to a polio-free world.

“Polio outbreaks this year have emphasised that polio anywhere is a threat to communities everywhere,” he said.

“While we are encouraged by steady progress in Pakistan and Afghanistan in the drive towards polio eradication, we know that there is a way to go to finish the job.”

The job done so far, though, represents huge progress. Just 30 years ago, polio was endemic in more than 125 countries on almost every continent. At least 300,000 caught the disease in 1988. Today it is barely two dozen.

Updated: October 24, 2022, 3:00 AM
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