ABU DHABI Global leaders on Tuesday convened at the Reaching the Last Mile Forum in Abu Dhabi to affirm their commitment to eradicate polio and pledge $2.6 billion as part of the first phase of the funding needed to implement the Global Polio Eradication Initiative’s Polio Endgame Strategy 2019-2023.

This event comes on the heels of a major announcement last month that the world has eradicated two of the three wild poliovirus strains, leaving only wild poliovirus type 1 (WPV1) still in circulation. Additionally, Nigeria – the last country in Africa to have cases of wild polio – has not seen wild polio since 2016 and the entire WHO African region could be certified wild polio-free in 2020. Thanks to the dedicated efforts of health workers, governments, donors and partners, wild polio only circulates in two countries: Pakistan and Afghanistan.

“From supporting one of the world’s largest health workforces, to reaching every last child with vaccines, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative is not only moving us closer to a polio-free world, it’s also building essential health infrastructure to address a range of other health needs,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organisation and Chair of the Polio Oversight Board. “We are grateful for the generous pledges made today and thank governments, donors and partners for standing with us. In particular, I would like to thank His Highness Shaikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi for hosting the GPEI pledging moment and for his long-term support for polio eradication.”

The commitments come at a critical time for the polio eradication effort. Barriers to reaching every child – including inconsistent campaign quality, insecurity, conflict, massive mobile populations, and, in some instances, parental refusal to the vaccine – have led to ongoing transmission of the wild poliovirus in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Further, low immunity to the virus in parts of Africa and Asia where not all children are vaccinated has sparked outbreaks of a rare form of the virus. To surmount these obstacles and protect 450 million children from polio every year, governments and donors announced significant new financial commitments toward the $3.27 billion needed to support the Polio Endgame Strategy.

“We are proud to host the GPEI pledging moment in Abu Dhabi and thank all the attendees for their continued commitment to the eradication of polio,” said Reem Al Hashimy, UAE Cabinet Member and Minister of State for International Cooperation. “Since launching in 2014, the Emirates Polio Campaign has delivered more than 430 million polio vaccines in some of the most remote areas of Pakistan. We remain firm in our mission to reach every last child and believe together we can consign polio to the pages of history.”

In addition to overcoming barriers to reach every child, this funding will ensure the resources and infrastructure built by the GPEI can support other health needs today and in the future. Polio workers deliver Vitamin A supplements, provide other vaccines like those for measles and yellow fever, counsel new mothers on breastfeeding, and strengthen disease surveillance systems to anticipate and respond to outbreaks. As part of its commitment to advance gender equality and women’s empowerment, the GPEI is also working to ensure equal participation of women at all levels of the programme.

The future of polio eradication hinges on support and engagement at all levels of the programme – from individuals to communities to local and national governments to donors. If the strategies needed to reach and vaccinate children are fully implemented and funded, we are confident that we can deliver a world where no child lives in fear of polio.

Who pledged how much?

Pledges are from a diverse array of donors, including $160 million from the host of the pledging moment His Highness Shaikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi; countries, including $215.92 million from the United States, $160 million from Pakistan, $105.05 million from Germany, $84.17 million from Nigeria, $10.83 million from Norway, $10.29 million from Australia, $7.4 million from Japan, $2.22 million from Luxembourg, $1.34 million from New Zealand, $116,000 from Spain and $10,000 from Liechtenstein; GPEI partners, including $1.08 billion from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and $150 million from Rotary International; philanthropic organisations, including $50 million from Bloomberg Philanthropies, $25 million from Dalio Philanthropies, $15 million from the Tahir Foundation, $6.4 million from the United Nations Foundation, $2 million from Alwaleed Philanthropies, $1 million from the Charina Endowment Fund and $1 million from Ningxia Yanbao Charity Foundation; and the private sector, including $1 million from Ahmed Al Abdulla Group, $1 million from Al Ansari Exchange and $340,000 from Kasta Technologies. Earlier this month, the United Kingdom announced it would contribute up to $514.8 million to the GPEI.

New initiatives

Several new initiatives aimed at ending Neglected Tropical Diseases’, NTD, were announced at Tuesday’s Reaching the Last Mile Forum.

World NTD Day: The inaugural World NTD Day will be marked on January 30, 2020, the anniversary of the London Declaration. The day will celebrate the hard-earned gains of the past decade and call for investment and action needed to eliminate these diseases.

The foundational aims of World NTD Day are to energise and align partners across the NTD community behind a common set of messages and calls to action that drive home the urgent need for political and financial commitments in 2020; to build political will and public awareness in endemic countries, where leadership will be essential; and to establish a sustainable annual moment for the NTD community to drive advocacy for years to come.

Reaching The Last Mile Fund: RLMF is a 10-year, $100 million initiative launched in 2017 by His Highness Shaikh Mohamed bin Zayed and supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Department for International Development, DFID. The fund is also supported by in-kind contributions from GlaxoSmithKline plc and Merck Sharp & Dohme.

Administered by the END Fund, RLMF aims to pave the way for the global elimination of river blindness (also known as onchocerciasis), while also working towards lymphatic filariasis (LF) elimination as a public health problem in countries where these diseases are co-endemic. The Fund operates in seven countries: Mali, Senegal, Niger, Chad, Sudan, and Ethiopia in Africa, as well as in Yemen in the Middle East.

Since launching in 2017, RLMF has focused on ways to accelerate progress. Through extensive mapping exercises and cross-border coalitions, RLMF has enabled countries to better target their treatment campaigns. And by investing in advanced lab facilities, encouraging collaborations amongst partner organizations, and training technicians and health care workers, the Fund is strengthening overall healthcare systems.

In 2018 alone, the RLMF delivered over 13.5 million treatments for river blindness and LF, and trained 76,000 health care workers to help expand treatment and outreach. Several progress announcements are expected in 2020, including reaching stop-transmission in select regions.

Three new funding partnerships:

The ELMA Foundation has made a significant contribution to the RLMF. Robyn Calder, Executive Director of The ELMA Philanthropies, said, “We are delighted to invest in and support the Reaching the Last Mile Fund and its mission to pave the way to end two devastating NTDs, which trap communities in poverty. ELMA is committed to partnering with others in the pursuit of NTD elimination and ultimately to secure human dignity for all”.

Bader Faris Al Hilali, an Abu Dhabi-based philanthropist, has committed nearly $3 million to RLMF. Al Hilali said, “I am pleased to support The Reaching the Last Mile Fund and their innovative approach to tackling NTDs, an urgent issue affecting billions of people around the world.”

Planet has committed $1 million in kind, making their advanced satellite services available to RLMF for use in mapping activities. “We started Planet to do good in this world and we are thrilled to see applications for our technology extend into the health space. Through our partnership with RLMF we hope to forge new and innovative approaches to tropical diseases work that ultimately improve the health of humankind,” said Planet Co-Founder and CEO Will Marshall. “Many neglected tropical diseases are water borne, and this is a particularly good use-case for our imagery, because tracking them requires frequent monitoring of river systems in remote and difficult to access areas.”

The Reach Campaign: In partnership with forward-thinking brands and corporations, The Reach Campaign will immediately focus its activities on raising further funding for the RLMF.T he Emirates Red Crescent will serve as the strategic partner for the campaign, administering fundraising activities in the UAE. Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, ADNOC, and Etihad Airlines are founding partners and will leverage their platforms in support of both fundraising and promotional activities. The Reach Campaign will launch in the UAE in January 2020, ahead of the inaugural World NTD Day.