UAE film helping to encourage European polio funding

Inspired by a powerful Abu Dhabi-made film about Pakistan’s fight against polio, and the UAE campaign to eradicate the disease, key decision-makers in Europe pledge their help.

Abu Dhabi-based Image Nation is premiering the film Every Last Child in New York this month. It examines the struggles of polio vaccination teams in Pakistan who have repeatedly come under attack from the Taliban.



Girl leaning against wall.



Courtesy Image Nation
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ABU DHABI // A powerful film showing the plight of thousands in Pakistan fighting a polio resurgence is helping to encourage European funding for a comprehensive vaccination programme to stop its global spread.

The UAE-European Parliament Friendship Group, in collaboration with the UAE mission to the EU, has hosted the latest polio awareness event in Brussels.

It featured Every Last Child, a film about Pakistan's fight against polio, produced by Image Nation Abu Dhabi and directed by award-winning filmmaker Tom Roberts.

Special screenings of the film across Europe have been aimed at key decision-makers and those holding the purse strings of foreign aid, in the hope of attracting further support.

The documentary, in Urdu with English subtitles, tells the dramatic story of five people affected by polio and the terrible consequences of the disease.

It also pays tribute to health workers who pursue their mission in the face of mistrust, cynicism and violence.

Roberts explained why he decided to make the movie.

“The disease will inevitably and quickly spread if it is not eradicated,” he said.

“Polio travels very quickly so you need to fight it and prevent it from spreading. The job is almost done – but almost isn’t good enough.”

Polio mainly affects young children, is highly infectious and is transmitted from person to person and through water and food. It can invade the nervous system and cause paralysis.

Pakistan has the vast majority of polio cases globally and is one of only three countries where it remains endemic.

Last year, cases peaked at a 14-year high of 306, with further cases reported so far this year.

The documentary addresses key issues, including the rejection of a polio vaccination programme from some within Pashtun communities.

Vaccinations are prohibited by the Pakistani Taliban, who claim it is a conspiracy to sterilise Muslims and have attacked health workers trying to administer vaccinations.

In March, authorities in Peshawar conducted their first-ever mass arrest of parents for refusing to allow their children to be vaccinated against polio.

Every Last Child has won critical acclaim at the New York Film Festival, where it premiered last year, and Hot Docs in Toronto, generally considered the top documentary film festival.

Michael Garin, chief executive of Image Nation, said the film is critically important to help deliver the message.

“It is very powerful,” Mr Garin said. “We made this documentary for global consumption and also created an incredibly powerful public service announcement for the Pakistani expat community living and working here, who are so influential as they are supporting so many people home in Pakistan.

“Many people around the world may understand the headline, but not the story.

“This film explains for the first time for most people why there is a problem and why a certain group of people are opposing vaccinations. It highlights in the most dramatic ways the risks that health workers are willing to assume to protect small children from this disease.”

The public service message has been shown on Etihad flights bound for Pakistan.

Although the UAE was declared polio-free in 1993, its support for a vaccination programme in Pakistan has been widespread, in partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which have together contributed a sum of about US$4 billion (Dh14.69bn) to the cause.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, pledged Dh440 million in 2013, while Microsoft founder Mr Gates contributed Dh6.6bn.

That year, the UAE Pakistan Assistance Programme helped vaccinate 8 million children.

Suleiman Al Mazrouei, head of the UAE Mission to the EU, said the current programme is part of the UAE’s general aid and development policy.

“Since its inception in 1971, the UAE has been in the forefront of the donor countries providing billions of euros each year,” he said.

“In 2013, the UAE was the largest donor in terms of percentage of its gross national income, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.”

Health experts have called for a global vaccination programme to be made mandatory.

Members of the European Parliament have signed a declaration calling on the European Commission to allocate appropriate levels of funding to polio vaccination campaigns and surveillance over the next four years.

Michel Coomans, Rotary representative at the EU, said it was a mission concerning the whole international community, and is hoping enough members will sign up to support a European Commission funding programme worth €200m between now and 2019.

nwebster@thenational.ae