British Prime Minister David Cameron said today that the United Kingdom would double its current contribution to polio eradication.
Mr Cameron called on other donors to back the Global Polio Eradication Initiative as he announced the UK’s commitment that will see an extra 45 million children fully vaccinated against the disease.
In 20 years, polio cases have been reduced by 99% and the disease is now close to being only the second in history - after smallpox - to be wiped out. In 2010, India and Nigeria - historically the toughest challenges to eradication - cut cases by 95%. However, today polio still exists in more than a dozen countries, crippling and killing children.
Prime Minister Cameron said: “I passionately believe that we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to rid the world of the evil of polio. We have the vaccines and the tools to do it. All that’s missing is real and sustained political will to see this effort through to the end.
“That’s why I’m announcing today that the UK is prepared to fully vaccinate an additional 45 million children against polio, through a doubling of our support to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative over the next two years.
“In return for that commitment, we ask other donors to do their bit, and affected countries to strengthen their routine immunisation programmes.
“We have come so far in eradicating polio. We are so close to delivering a polio-free world for all our children. Let’s finish the job. And let’s eradicate polio once-and-for-all.”
Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Bill Gates announced that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has committed an additional $102 million to support efforts to stamp out the disease.
“Eliminating the last 1% of polio requires the kind of political leadership shown by the UK government and Prime Minister Cameron today,” Gates said.
“Eradicating polio requires innovative thinking and political will, as well as funding from a range of donors, to support an aggressive program that will get the job done.”
Andrew Mitchell, Secretary of State for International Development, said:
“Britain is at the forefront of the fight against polio. We have already provided funding for 1.2 billion doses of polio vaccine for children over the past two years and our increased commitment means many millions more will be protected from this terrible disease.
“The ultimate goal of full eradication can only be achieved if other countries and organisations play their part and release funds.”
Dr Margaret Chan, Director General of the World Health Organization, which leads the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), joined the Prime Minister and Mr Gates for the announcement.
“These new investments come at a critical time in the fight against polio,” said Dr Chan.
“We have a window of opportunity now, with cases at an all time low. But if there is polio anywhere we are at risk of polio everywhere. Only eradication will ensure that polio does not reemerge as a global threat.”
The new funds from the UK, as well as support announced from His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi this week, will help fill a funding gap of $720 million.
Polio remains endemic in four countries - Afghanistan, India, Nigeria and Pakistan - and there were outbreaks of the disease last year in Angola, DRC and Tajikistan.
The new funding will help the GPEI purchase vaccines and conduct immunisation activities. In the next two years, more than three billion doses of oral polio vaccine will be needed to immunise young children. Funding is also required for activities such as surveillance and technical assistance.
Polio eradication staff are now the single largest source of technical assistance for immunisation in low-income countries. The program will also allocate new funds for emergency response efforts in areas like Republic of Congo, which recently have experienced large outbreaks of the virus.
Last year at the World Economic Forum, Bill and Melinda Gates called for the next ten years to be the decade of vaccines. The vision is a world ten years from now where the global health community has come together to deliver life-saving vaccines to every child who needs them, and to invest in vaccines that don’t yet exist.
This first year has seen remarkable success:
- A new meningitis vaccine launched in Burkina Faso
- GAVI’s Advance Market Commitment mechanism to fund pneumococcal vaccine delivery in Latin America and Africa
- Unprecedented reductions in polio in Nigeria (down to 19 cases from 388 in 2009, and India (41 cases vs 741 in 2009)
- Significant progress in developing a viable malaria vaccine.
Vaccine partners from across the world are coming together to define a Global Vaccine Action Plan to guide the discovery, development and delivery of lifesaving vaccines over the next decade.