UAE efforts key to making world polio-free

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Abu Dhabi: The UAE’s efforts to eradicate polio are key towards making the world polio-free, Bill Gates said in the capital today (December 6).

He was speaking at the Heroes of Polio Eradication (HOPE) Awards in Abu Dhabi.

His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, also attended the event.

UAE-led vaccination campaigns in Pakistan have reached out to more than 20 million children, in a country where the condition is still endemic, said the renowned technology magnate and co-chair of the philanthropic Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

“Many children were inaccessible [to polio vaccination workers] until the UAE-Pakistan partnership figured out how to get into those areas. The UAE’s leadership in polio eradication has [therefore] been key to the progress we have made. Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed and I share a commitment towards polio eradication and I am optimistic that this partnership will bring us closer to a world without polio,” Gates said.

Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed and Gates also awarded five polio workers for their efforts.

“The actual work of delivering the polio drops requires hundreds of thousands of brave health workers who go to extreme and even dangerous lengths to ensure that we get to every child,” Gates said, commending the award recipients, and dedicated the evening to other polio workers around the world.

Polio is caused by the polio virus, which attacks the central nervous system and causes temporary or permanent paralysis. It mainly affects children under five years of age.

The UAE was declared polio-free in 1992. But in 2014, 342 cases were still reported globally, with 89.5 per cent of them in Pakistan. This year, only 60 cases have been recorded internationally.

Experts say there is now a window to eradicate the viral disease by 2018. Only one of the three virus strains remains, and the disease is now endemic only in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Northern Nigeria was removed from the list of endemic countries in September.

In 2013, Abu Dhabi hosted the first Global Vaccine Summit, and $4 billion (Dh14.69 billion) was pledged to eradicate polio. Of this, $120 million (Dh440.75 million) was donated by Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed, with a specific focus on combating the disease in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

In addition, the Emirates Polio Campaign that kicked off in 2014 has so far provided 86.5 million vaccines in Pakistan.

Earlier in 2011, the Gates Foundation and Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed had announced co-funding of $100 million (Dh367.3 million) to provide polio vaccinations to children in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

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