At the World Economic Forum in Davos today, British Prime Minister David Cameron announced that the United Kingdom will double its current contribution to polio eradication. This will see an extra 45 million children fully vaccinated against the disease.
Making the announcement, alongside Bill Gates and Dr Margaret Chan, Director General of the World Health Organization, Mr 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.”
He also called on other donors to follow suit and help consign polio to the history books.
Bill Gates also announced that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has committed an additional $102 million to support efforts to stamp out the disease.
Welcoming these commitments Dr Margaret Chan said:
“These new investments come at a critical time in the fight against polio. 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.”
Polio, short for poliomyelitis, is a highly infectious disease caused by a virus that can damage the nervous system and cause paralysis. It remains endemic in 4 countries – Afghanistan, India, Nigeria and Pakistan – and there were just under 1,000 cases reported in 2010.
The good news is that vaccines and extensive immunization programmes have had a huge impact with polio cases having been reduced by 99% in the last 20 years. The disease is now close to being only the second in history – after smallpox – to be wiped out.
As Mr Cameron said today:
“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.”
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