Through the Emirates Polio Campaign initiative, the UAE has helped drive polio eradication efforts in Pakistan. Image Credit: Supplied

Geneva: The UAE has fulfilled its $120 million funding pledge made at the 2013 Global Vaccine Summit in Abu Dhabi, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) announced on Monday.

The commitment was made by His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces.

“We thank the UAE for its long-term generous support and unwavering dedication to polio eradication, and particularly the personal commitment of Shaikh Mohammaad Bin Zayed,” Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organisation (WHO), said. “This is the kind of support that will ensure we reach every last child to complete the job and show the way to delivering health to all.”

UAE’s contribution to polio eradications efforts since 2011

Following the Global Vaccine Summit, the UAE expanded its role through the UAE Pakistan Assistance Programme (UAE-PAP). Through the Emirates Polio Campaign initiative, the UAE has helped drive on-the-ground eradication efforts within the most vulnerable communities in Pakistan.

“The UAE’s pivotal role in eradicating polio completely is not limited to being a donor only, but extends to include its capacity to convene key groups and provide on-ground support to deliver vaccines in the highest risk areas of Pakistan,” said Mohammad Mazroui, undersecretary of the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince’s Court.

In addition to the $120 million, Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed pledged an additional $30 million to polio eradication, announced by Bill Gates at the Rotary International Convention in Atlanta, US, in June 2017.

With additional commitments in 2011 and 2014, in total, the UAE has contributed $167.8 million since 2011 to help end polio, with direct support to Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya and Sudan.

Polio is a highly infectious disease that can cause lifelong paralysis, but it is entirely preventable with vaccines. Polie remains to be eradicated in only three countries: Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria. When the polio eradication effort was launched in 1988, 350,000 children were paralysed by polio every year across 125 countries.

Polio eradication efforts have since made remarkable progress and there were only 22 cases in 2017 — the lowest ever recorded number. However, a number of key challenges remain. Reaching the most vulnerable children with the polio vaccine is hampered by a range of hurdles including difficult terrain, insecurity, and large-scale population movements.

Akhil Iyer, Unicef director of polio eradication also pointed out that the UAE’s support — both as a leading donor and passionate advocate — “has been critical for getting as close as we’ve ever been to making history by eradicating polio”.

“This is a gift not only to the children of Pakistan, but to all future generations of children, everywhere, who are so close to the goal of being able to be born and be raised in a polio-free world,” he added.