Crown Prince’s polio donation vaccinates 300 million children
The UAE has funded nearly 300 million polio vaccination shots for children in Pakistan.
A US$120 million (Dh440.7m) pledge in 2013 by Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, has been completed, it was announced yesterday.
Sheikh Mohammed also pledged an extra $30m in the fight to eliminate a disease that once killed and disabled millions, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative said.
Polio has been entirely eliminated in most of the world but Pakistan is one of the last hot spots.
Last year, the lowest number of polio disease cases in medical history was recorded – just 22. In Pakistan, reported cases fell by 97 per cent between 2014 and last year.
While there is no cure for the disease, vaccinations can prevent it being caught. As a result, it is estimated that 1.5 million childhood deaths have been prevented since 1988, while 16 million have escaped paralysis.
When the polio eradication campaign started 30 years ago, the disease in 125 countries paralysed 350,000 children a year.
Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, director of World Health Organisation, thanked Sheikh Mohammed for his “long-term, generous support and unwavering dedication to polio eradication”.
“This is the kind of support that will ensure we reach every last child to complete the job and to show the way to delivering health to all,” Dr Ghebreyesus said.
More gratitude came from Akhil Iyer, director of polio eradication at Unicef, the UN
children’s organisation, who called the UAE’s donations “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 raised in a polio-free world”.
Through the UAE-Pakistan Alliance, the Emirates is funding 5,000 vaccinators working in some of the most remote communities in the country.
Afghanistan and Nigeria are still listed as having polio present, but Pakistan remains the last and toughest challenge.
Among the problems are tribal migratory patterns, the isolation of affected communities and misleading claims by extremist groups, such as the Taliban, who have spread rumours that the vaccination programmes are a western attempt at mass sterilisation.
In some instances, vaccination teams have been attacked and killed as they go about their work.
The support of the UAE, a Muslim country, has helped to overcome these preconceptions.
But even with a historic low number of infections, the WHO said that without continued support, polio could easily rebound to 200,000 cases worldwide within a decade.
“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 Mohammed Al Mazrouei, undersecretary at the Crown Prince Court of Abu Dhabi. Sheikh Mohammed has worked closely with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the wider programme of disease eradication.
Last year, Abu Dhabi hosted the launch of Reaching the Last Mile, a $100m fund to eliminate two further diseases, river blindness and lymphatic filariasis.
The UAE and Sheikh Mohammed had shown an “unwavering commitment to end polio”, said Dr Chris Elias, president of the Global Development Programme at the Gates Foundation.
“We are delighted to partner with them in this effort. Without their involvement, achieving a record low number of polio cases in 2017 would not have been possible.”
Polio eradication work has led to the lowest number of recorded cases in medical history
The Global Polio Eradication Initiative says the UAE has completed the $120m commitment made by Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, in Pakistan