Dubai: The UAE has joined hands with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in its campaign to save children's lives by combating polio in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Dr Hanif Hassan, Minister of Health, said yesterday.
The two Asian nations still report a huge number of polio cases and face several other health challenges, Dr Hassan, who earlier opened a meeting of the WHO Regional Commission meeting for Polio Eradication, said.
He said the partnership between General Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has been particularly notable for providing basic vaccinations that are critical to ending the disease's threat.
Gates writes in his annual letter that: "Most people who live in rich countries assume the disease is long gone and that it doesn't kill or paralyse children any more."
Mass mobilisations to administer the polio vaccine had helped eliminate polio in the US and most developed nations decades ago, Gates notes. The campaign in developing nations, however, still faces a funding shortfall of over Dh2.5 billion, he pointed out.
"If eradication fails because of a lack of generosity on the part of donor countries it would be tragic. We are so close, but we have to finish the last leg of the journey. We need to bring the cases down to zero, maintain careful surveillance to ensure the virus is truly gone."
Dr Hassan said the WHO meeting would review the certification reports of the eastern Mediterranean region and prepare specific recommendations that will contribute to the efforts of declaring the countries of the region free of polio.
He pointed out that there are still some countries here where the disease is rampant. "These countries require support from all the countries of the region to help get rid of the disease."
Dr Hassan said that polio in the region was now down to two countries. There has been no polio case recorded in the UAE since 1992, he added.
Polio is a viral illness with those affected not showing any symptoms in 95 per cent of cases.