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Shot in the arm for polio eradication

Health & Science
 World Polio Day 2022 participants at Nairobi Primary School, October 23, 2022. [Samson Wire, Standard]

There is a ray of hope in the fight against polio after global leaders committed $2.6 billion to the eradication initiative.

The leaders committed to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative’s (GPEI) 2022-26 Strategy co-hosted by Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), at the World Health Summit in Berlin.

Kenya is among the states to benefit from the funds.

According to the World Health Organization, the funds will support global efforts to overcome the final hurdles to polio eradication, vaccinate 370 million children annually over the next five years, and surveillance in 50 countries.

“No place is safe until polio has been eradicated everywhere. As long as the virus still exists somewhere in the world, it can spread – including in our own country. We now have a realistic chance to eradicate polio completely, and we want to jointly seize that chance,” said Svenja Schulze, Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development, Germany.

The polio eradication pledge in Berlin over the weekend marked the first major opportunity to pledge support toward the $4.8 billion needed to fully implement the 2022-26 strategy.

In a statement, Schulze added, “Germany will remain a strong and committed partner in the global fight against polio. This year, it is providing EUR35 million for this cause. And next year we plan to further strengthen our efforts and support GPEI with EUR37 million – pending parliamentary approval.”

Apart from fighting polio, he said the funds also strengthen national health systems, leading to healthier societies.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO Director-General welcomed the support, saying there is a need to fully fund the strategy.

“We are grateful for donors’ new and continued support for eradication, but there is further work to do to fully fund the 2022-26 Strategy. We must remember the significant challenges we have overcome to get this far against polio, stay the course and finish the job once and for all,” said the WHO director.

Tedros said countries should strengthen the fight against the disease to prevent a resurge.

In August 2020, the WHO African region was certified free of wild poliovirus, a huge step on the road to global polio eradication. Despite the achievement, more than 250 cases of paralysis from polio have been recorded, WHO data shows.

The cases are attributed to the Covid-19 pandemic, which slowed out vaccination.

“The new detections of polio this year in previously polio-free countries are a stark reminder that if we do not deliver our goal of ending polio everywhere, it may resurge globally,” Tedros said.

Ian Riseley, chair, Rotary Foundation, said, “While polio exists anywhere, it is a threat everywhere. This is an opportune moment for the global community to recommit to the goal.”

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