If eradication efforts stopped, polio may resurge with 200,000 cases per year: Bill Gates

ABU DHABI, Although a few polio cases remain to be eradicated in the world, “if we stopped eradication efforts now, there could be a resurgence of up to 200,000 cases annually by 2029,” said Bill Gates, Co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

He said this while announcing an additional US$1.08 billion from the Foundation for the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, GPEI, at the Reaching the Last Mile, RLM, Forum held on Tuesday at the Louvre Abu Dhabi.

Global leaders convened at the Forum in Abu Dhabi affirmed their commitment to eradicate polio and pledged a total of US$2.6 billion as part of the first phase of the funding needed to implement the GPEI’s Polio Endgame Strategy 2019-2023.

Gates went on to say that since 1988, polio cases decreased by 99.9 percent. The remaining cases persist in some of the most complex and challenging places on earth, including war zones, inaccessible to vaccinators, he said.

Wild poliovirus, which was circulating in 125 countries, exists in just two countries today, Gates pointed out.

Two of the three strains of wild poliovirus have been eradicated. And more than 18 million people are walking today who would otherwise have been paralysed by polio, he noted.

“Most people focus on how many cases of polio are left in the world, and that number has hovered just above zero for a few years now. But even a single child paralysed by polio is one too many,” Gates explained.

“And, as there are fewer and fewer cases of polio, detecting the virus becomes more difficult. Most people infected with it show no signs of paralysis, which means the virus can circulate silently for long periods of time before it is detected or causes paralysis in a child,” he warned.

Gates thanked His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, for hosting the RLM Forum, his presence in the Forum and his leadership in global health.

“The UAE’s commitment to ending diseases of poverty goes back decades. Sheikh Zayed, the UAE’s Founding Father, was among the first international leaders to join in this effort,” Gates said.

“Sheikh Mohamed and I began working together on childhood immunisation and polio eradication in 2011. Since then, I have seen his dedication, evident not only in his generous financial support, but also in his ability to bring together partners in the global health community. Today is one example of that,” he explained.

Sheikh Mohamed is also using the UAE’s expertise and relations in the region to accelerate disease elimination, Gates noted.

“For example, under his leadership, the UAE-Pakistan Assistance Programme has carried out its own polio vaccination campaigns in Pakistan to reach children who haven’t previously been immunised,” he said.

Gate continued, “Two years ago, Sheikh Mohamed established the Global Institute for Disease Elimination, with support from our foundation. Sheikh Mohamed and I also partnered to create the Reaching the Last Mile Fund, which is focused on eliminating river blindness and lymphatic filariasis in the Sahel.”

Source: Emirates News Agency