Canada Helping Women Deliver for Eradication

Canada announces funding for polio eradication in Nigeria at the Women Deliver Conference in Copenhagen.

Dr Flavia Bustreo from WHO and Hon. Marie-Claude Bibeau, Canada’s Minister for International Development, at the Women Deliver conference in Copenhagen. © Pablo Berlanga
Dr Flavia Bustreo from WHO and Hon. Marie-Claude Bibeau, Canada’s Minister for International Development, at the Women Deliver conference in Copenhagen.
© Pablo Berlanga

The Government of Canada announced a Can$19.9 million contribution to Nigeria’s polio programme yesterday to help keep the country free from the debilitating virus, as part of its Can$ 250 million commitment to polio eradication for 2013-18. The announcement was made by Canada’s Minister for International Development, Hon. Marie-Claude Bibeau at the global Women Deliver conference in Copenhagen. This high-level event focused on the Sustainable Development Goals and developing solutions to the health, economic and social challenges facing girls and women around the world today.

Through WHO’s ‘Sustaining Polio Eradication Through Strengthened Routine Immunization project’, the additional funding will help to immunize more than 13 million children against polio in 11 high-risk Nigerian states, and train upwards of 150,000 vaccinators. It complements Canada’s polio eradication support for the Hard-to-Reach Project through UNICEF, an initiative to bring polio vaccines to the most vulnerable and remote communities alongside other health interventions such as routine vaccines, maternity care, deworming tablets and Vitamin A supplements.

“Polio will be eradicated in a few years,” said Minister Bibeau in a press statement. “Consider the powerful impact of such a statement. It can happen with a sustained effort aimed at immunizing every child. Our aim is to help reduce the burden of diseases affecting mothers and children, and eradicate polio from Nigeria for good.”

Citing the conference as an opportune time to make the announcement, WHO thanked the Government of Canada for its continuous support to polio eradication efforts in Nigeria and beyond.

“We are grateful for Canada’s leadership and significant support to polio eradication and its commitment to keep Nigeria polio free,” said Dr Flavia Bustreo, WHO Assistant Director General for Family, Women’s and Children’s Health. “Given the leadership role that women play in polio eradication worldwide, it is particularly meaningful that this announcement is made at Women Deliver,” she added. “As the caretakers in many families, women are well placed to convince families to accept vaccination. Thanks to the critical action of women as community mobilizers and vaccinators, the programme is reducing the number of chronically missed children by building community trust.”

Nigeria successfully removed itself from the list of polio endemic countries in 2015 with its last case in July 2014, a remarkable achievement for a country that for decades struggled to stamp out the virus. Although now polio-free, like many other countries, it remains at significant risk of poliovirus importation.

“Polio is still endemic in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and so long as transmission occurs in these countries, we are not out of the woods,” said Joseph Swan, Communications Officer for WHO’s polio hub based in Amman, Jordan, who attended the conference. “WHO and partners continue to work closely with governments of countries like Nigeria to enhance immunization coverage and improve surveillance systems to detect polio, should it reappear. We mustn’t be complacent. We must continue to innovate to reach every last child in the poorest and most underserved communities of the world. Because until polio transmission is stopped for good, no country is safe from outbreaks,” he said.

Women are increasingly empowered with new roles to serve their communities, which could have lasting changes on societies. A new strategy to employ local women to administer the vaccine and make regular house visits in some of the highest risk areas is being implemented in high-risk areas of Pakistan. Female teams are now covering nearly 40% of Karachi’s 2.2 million children younger than five, and the initiative will be scaled up.

The Women Deliver conference brought together more than 5000 participants, from policymakers to activists, youth leaders, and members of civil society and the corporate sector, as well as partners of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.

The Canadian announcement comes weeks after its Can$40 million contribution to aid eradication efforts in Pakistan.

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