ABU DHABI // Leaders of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative gathered in Abu Dhabi on Thursday to reveal that they are close to wiping out polio completely.
They discussed the progress and challenges of combating the disease during an independent monitoring board meeting in the capital.
Attendees included representatives of polio-affected countries and leaders from the GPEI partner organisations: the World Health Organisation, Unicef, the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, Rotary International and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
They commended regional solidarity and UAE’s role in fighting the disease, two years after the Global Vaccine Summit in Abu Dhabi.
“The UAE has been a key partner providing not only funding, but on-the-ground support as well,” said Dr Hamid Jafari, director of polio operations and research at WHO.
“In Pakistan, the UAE is helping to reach children in some of the toughest areas that were previously inaccessible to vaccinators, and is working with community leaders to improve confidence in the vaccination programme.
“Thanks to continued commitment from international partners and donors like the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Islamic Development Bank, and partners on the ground, we have never been closer to wiping polio off the face of the Earth.
“In the past few months, Africa has seen strong progress. With no wild poliovirus cases reported since August 2014, the continent is on the cusp of becoming polio-free.
Nigeria, one of the three remaining countries that have never stopped transmission of the virus, has not seen a case of wild poliovirus since July 2014,” Dr Jafari said.
He also highlighted the importance of learning from the Middle East polio scare two years ago.
“In the Middle East, an outbreak that began in 2013 and threatened to destabilise the global eradication effort now appears to have been stopped. In one of the most difficult humanitarian responses yet conducted, vaccinators managed to repeatedly reach more than 20 million children across seven countries and stop the virus.
“Organisations on the ground continue to strengthen vaccination services for vulnerable populations to ensure that children remain protected from polio.”
Pakistan and Afghanistan are the only two countries to have recorded polio cases so far this year.
Currently, Pakistan remains the single largest risk to the eradication effort. In 2014, more than 85 per cent of global cases were reported in Pakistan and the majority of Afghanistan’s cases were tied to Pakistan.
“Both countries must succeed together to achieve sustained cessation of polio.
“Governments of polio-affected countries must redouble their efforts to reach children, especially in insecure areas, with the polio vaccine and the international community must follow through on its financial and political commitments. We have an opportunity to end polio once and for all and ensure future generations can live without the threat of this devastating disease” Dr Jafari concluded.
The 2013 Global Vaccine Summit was held in partnership with Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, the UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon and Bill Gates, co-chairman of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Donors at the Summit, including the UAE, pledged Dh14.7 billion towards ridding the world of polio, a crippling disease that mostly strikes children.
The event came as the Health Authority Abu Dhabi (Haad) marked the completion of its National Polio Campaign, held between November 2014 and January.
According to Haad, 254,082 children were vaccinated during the campaign with 121,890 in round one and 132,192 in round two.
Implemented with the support of 86 entities In Abu Dhabi, the campaign aimed to recognise the contribution of institutions and individuals in the National Polio Immunisation Campaign.
Dr Farida Al Hosani, acting director of public health and research at Haad, stressed the importance of vaccines as the most effective tool for preventing infectious diseases
“Without vaccines, diseases such as polio cannot be averted around the world,” Dr Al Hosani said.
The UAE was declared a polio-free country in 1993.