We are fast approaching a day that, only a few short decades ago, few would have ever dreamed of being possible — the eradication of polio.
That we are on the verge of eliminating this cruel, debilitating and deadly disease is the result of years of determination that no child would ever again have to face a life with the effects of this virus. But it has been a long struggle, one that has required nations, leaders, medical experts and philanthropists working together in various forums, all focused on ending the disease.
On Tuesday in Abu Dhabi, global leaders at the Reaching the Last Mile Forum took a very significant step towards making the world polio free by committing $2.6 billion in funding to implementing an endgame strategy to eradicate the virus.
Certainly, the timing of the announcement is very significant and follows through on a recent announcement that has cheered all who have worked together for so long in working to protect vulnerable communities from the various strains of the polio virus.
As things stand now, wild polio only circulates in Pakistan and Afghanistan. There, there are challenges in eradicating the virus — an inconsistent campaign, insecurity, conflict, large mobile populations and sadly, in some cases, a refusal by parents to allow children to be inoculated
Last month, public health officials made a very significant announcement indeed: Two of the three strains of wild polio virus have been eradicated, with only wild polio virus 1 (WPV1) remaining — and even then only in isolated specific geographical pockets.
There has also been more good news from Nigeria, the last nation in Africa to report cases of wild polio. If that indeed remains the case until 2020, then officials from the World Health Organisation will be able to certify the entire continent of Africa as polio free.
As things stand now, wild polio only circulates in Pakistan and Afghanistan. There, there are challenges in eradicating the virus — an inconsistent campaign, insecurity, conflict, large mobile populations and sadly, in some cases, a refusal by parents to allow children to be inoculated.
There are other conditions, too, elsewhere that challenge medical teams, volunteers, researchers and aid workers from being able to complete the critical goal of eradicating wild polio on this planet. A low immunity rate in parts of Africa and Asia means rare strains of the virus can return.
Simply put, the pledge on Tuesday from the global community now means that the $2.6 billion goes a long way in protecting 450 million vulnerable children from the polio virus and implementing public health programmes to ensure the fight against the virus is won.
Central to this initiative has been the vision of His Highness Shaikh Mohamed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, who has long championed the elimination of polio and other neglected tropical diseases.