World Polio Day is marked annually on 24th October recognising global efforts to eradicate the highly infectious disease that mainly affects children under the age of five.
Since the establishment of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, GPEI, in 1988, the World Health Organisation, WHO, noted that wild polio cases have decreased by over 99 percent, with 33 reported cases in 2018.
These results are a product of concerted efforts by international organisations, governments and various individuals who regularly work to ensure the eradication of the disease. One such example is the role the UAE has played in eradicating polio, by actively contributing to the financing and support of critical vaccination campaigns.
As a result of these initiatives – led by His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces – around 400 million children globally have received the necessary vaccines to prevent the spread of polio.
Since 2014, the Initiative of His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan for Global Polio Eradication has helped provide over 71 million children in Pakistan with vital polio vaccines. According to the UAE-Pakistan Assistance Programme, UAE PAP – which partners with the Sheikh Mohamed polio initiative – 418,956,226 drops of polio vaccines were delivered to Pakistani children from 2014 and up until September 2019.
Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed has, since 2011, personally donated US$167.8 million to support global efforts to eradicate poliomyelitis, with a focus on remote regions in Pakistan and Afghanistan. In April 2018, the UAE fulfilled its $120 million funding pledge to the GPEI made at the 2013 Global Vaccine Summit in Abu Dhabi.
His Highness has also collaborated with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2011, where the two parties committed a total of $100 million for the purchase and delivery of vital vaccines to vulnerable Afghan and Pakistani children.
The UAE’s strong commitment to eradicating polio reflects the country’s policy to assist the underprivileged and vulnerable communities via various humanitarian campaigns and development aid programmes.
While the Global Commission for the Certification of Poliomyelitis Eradication is expected to declare the poliovirus type 3 (WPV3) as globally eradicated on World Polio Day this year, there are still issues of concern. According to WHO, failure to eradicate polio from the last remaining strongholds – Pakistan and Afghanistan – of the disease could result in “as many as 200,000 new cases every year, within ten years, all over the world.”
As of 16th October, the GPEI noted that the number of cases of the poliovirus type 1 (WPV1) in Pakistan increased to 72, compared to 12 WPV1 cases recorded throughout 2018.
The UAE PAP Emirates Polio Campaign in Pakistan spans the four provinces of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Federally Administered Tribal Areas, Balochistan, and Sindh. Various international bodies and aid organisations consider these areas as the last bastion for polio for multiple reasons, including lack of infrastructure, remote locations, conflict and resistance to vaccination.
Now in its sixth phase of implementing the campaign, the UAE PAP has administered polio vaccines to some 15-16 million children per month in 2019. These efforts were no easy task but saw a collective movement of 106,000 physicians, observers, and vaccination teams come together with over 25,000 security and coordination teams to be able to reach the 103 polio stronghold areas in Pakistan.
Polio eradication will have a considerable impact on the lives of individuals worldwide. According to WHO, once polio is eradicated, children will no longer suffer from polio-paralysis, but also would save some $45-50 billion, for mostly low-income countries.
Source: UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs