UAE says it is committed to eradicating polio

Pledge made at global event calling for renewed support from governments and donors

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The UAE said it was committed to eradicate polio, at a virtual event on Thursday.

The World Health Organisation, Pakistan and India also renewed their support for the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, a public-private partnership led by national governments with core partners such as the WHO, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, the United Nations Children's Fund, and Bill and Melinda Gates.

“Eradicating polio requires global co-operation, public will and the determination to reach that last, difficult mile,” Reem Al Hashimy, the UAE’s Minister of State for International Cooperation, said at the event.

"The UAE remains committed to this mission and building a healthier world for future generations," she added.

Officials from the polio initiative said its campaign to rid the world of the paralysing disease had been halted for 18 months due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Instead, the organisation diverted 30,000 of its staff and more than $100 million to support the fight against the pandemic in almost 50 countries.

We are closer than ever to losing the gains we have fought so hard for

But halting the polio vaccination programme has led to a steep increase in cases being reported. Last year, 1,226 cases of polio were recorded compared to 138 in 2018.

The infectious disease mostly causes flu-like symptoms, but leads to meningitis in about one in 25 people. It can also cause paralysis or weakness in the arms, legs, or both, in about one in 200 people.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has made polio eradication a priority.

Speaking at the event, Bill Gates, co-chairman of the philanthropic organisation, warned the campaign was at a pivotal point.

"We are closer than ever to losing the gains we have fought so hard for," he said.

"Outbreaks of different forms of polio continue to crop up in Africa and parts of Asia. We still aren't reaching areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

"And with the pandemic interrupting campaigns, routine immunisation and disease surveillance, all these challenges have become even more daunting."

A new strategy

A health worker administers a polio vaccine to a child, in Karachi, Pakistan, Wednesday, June 9, 2021. Gunmen on a motorcycle Wednesday shot and killed two police officers assigned to protect polio vaccination workers in the district of Mardan in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, northwest Pakistan before fleeing, police said. (AP Photo/Fareed Khan)

To control the spread of the disease, the global initiative launched a four-year Polio Eradication Strategy on Thursday.

It will focus on five key areas. These include:

  • Further integrating polio prevention activities with essential health services
  • Building closer partnerships with high-risk communities
  • Enforcing gender equality in the implementation of programme activities
  • Recognising the importance of female workers to build community trust and improve vaccine acceptance
  • Implementing digital payments to frontline health workers

The Global Polio Eradication Initiative will also introduce a new polio vaccine after the WHO issued an Emergency Use Listing recommendation for the nOPV2 inoculation in November 2020.

nOPV2 is an oral vaccine. It is administered via two drops, given into the mouth of the child. This is the same as for other oral polio vaccines.

Clinical trials have shown the vaccine to be safe and effective against type 2 polio, and it has the potential to stop outbreaks.

UAE support for polio eradication

Polio cases have fallen by 99.9 per cent since 1988 but there are fears of inadequate funding in future, said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the WHO and member of the Polio Oversight Board.

“To succeed, we urgently need renewed political and financial commitments from governments and donors," he said.

The UAE has long supported the campaign to eradicate polio. Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, has committed more than $250 million to eradicate the disease.

In 2019, Sheikh Mohamed hosted a GPEI fundraising event at the Reaching the Last Mile Forum in Abu Dhabi. It raised more than $2.8 billion.

Sheikh Mohamed has also worked with Mr Gates to fund campaigns to tackle neglected tropical diseases, and more recently, on the Hope Consortium to distribute Covid-19 vaccines.