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‘We are about to wipe polio off the face of the earth’

A girl receives polio vaccine drops, during an anti-polio campaign, in a low-income neighborhood in Karachi, Pakistan July 20, 2020. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro/File Photo

A cross-European & philanthropic partnership has announced new funding that will move the eradication of polio – one of the world’s deadliest diseases affecting children – a step closer

This initiative involving the European Commission, European Investment Bank and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is aimed at addressing what it calls  ‘critical global health opportunities’, namely wiping out polio and ensuring that innovations in health are more accessible to the people who need them most.

The World Health Organization and UNICEF will together provide the physical resources required to help finally wipe out a disease that mainly affects children under five years of age. Although endemic still in just two countries, Pakistan and Afghanistan, there is tireless work going on to ensure that as many vulnerable children as possible across the globe are protected.

‘Accessible to the people who need it most’

The expected €1.1 billion (Euros) financing package, says the European Commission, ‘aims to provide new funding to eradicate a human disease for only the second time in history and help solve the health and development challenges faced by the world’s most vulnerable people, who otherwise do not get fair access to healthcare services and innovations’.

The funding will cover polio vaccinations for nearly 370 million children annually; deliver vital health services to children alongside polio campaigns, including measles vaccines and other routine immunizations; and strengthen health systems to better prepare and respond to emerging health threats, as the polio program has done against COVID-19, Ebola, and other diseases.

Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, said: “We are about to wipe polio off the face of the Earth. The European Commission, the EIB and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation are partnering to get through the final stretch. With €1 billion supported by our European investment strategy Global Gateway, we will invest in stronger health systems globally and local vaccine and medicines production, manufacturing and administration, where it is most needed. Global cooperation has helped us put an end to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now it will help us get rid of polio once and for all.”

‘Eradicate polio once and for all’

Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said: “Thanks to medical innovations, the world eradicated one human disease – smallpox. Today we’re on the verge of ending another – wild poliovirus. I am committed to ensuring that no child, anywhere in the world, faces this awful disease. I am also optimistic that we will eradicate polio once and for all and make health innovations more accessible for everyone, particularly those in the poorest countries.”

Part of the funding is also towards expands the innovation capacity of health systems in low- and middle-income countries. This includes initiatives supported by the European Commission including efforts to make health innovations like mRNA-based vaccines and therapeutics more accessible to people in low- and middle-income countries, under Europe’s investment plan for the world, Global Gateway.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organization, said: “Reaching un- or under-vaccinated children in the most remote and hardest-to-reach areas is essential for finishing the job of polio eradication,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. These new funds will not only help to drive us towards a polio-free world, but will also help to build more sustainable and resilient health systems to protect the same children and communities who are at risk of polio against the many other health threats they face.”

Click here for more information from the World Health Organization about childhood polio.

Author: Simon Weedy

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