Republic of Korea takes flight for polio

The Government of Korea gives US $4 million for polio disease surveillance and outbreak response

Women in Toutou village, Niger wait to have their children vaccinated against the polio virus as part of outbreak response activities. © UNICEF/UN026556/Parry
Women in Toutou village, Niger wait to have their children vaccinated against the polio virus as part of outbreak response activities. © UNICEF/UN026556/Parry

Polio is highly infectious, and can easily fly undetected with a child from one country to another. But when anyone flies from the Republic of Korea, they are directly supporting the effort to ensure this disease never travels again at all.

An innovative financing mechanism titled the ‘‘Global Disease Eradication Fund” air-ticket solidarity levy means the Government of Korea collects 1,000 South Korean Won (about US$0.85) from each international passenger departing Korea’s airports. This week, the Government of Korea announced it was giving US $4 million of those funds to UNICEF and WHO to support disease surveillance and a rapid outbreak response wherever it occurs.

This contribution has been generously matched by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, doubling its impact to $8 million and reducing the polio eradication funding need, which is currently estimated at $1.3 billion for 2016-2019.

This unique new funding agreement was made possible through the committed work of Korean Rotary members, who used the global stage of their Rotary International Convention in Seoul in May to highlight the opportunity for Korea to support polio eradication.

Michael K. McGovern, the Chair of Rotary’s International PolioPlus Committee, expressed his thanks to the Government of Korea for its support. “We are getting closer to our goal of a polio-free world, but we’re not done yet,” Mr McGovern said. “This new funding from Korea will help ensure the right financial resources are in place to get the world to the finish line: a future where no child has to suffer the devastating effects of polio.”

UNICEF and WHO welcomed the funding, which will be used to detect and respond to any potential outbreak of polio. UNICEF received $3 million, with WHO receiving $1 million of the funds.

UNICEF Director of Polio Eradication Reza Hossaini said the funding would be utilized for rapid outbreak response. “UNICEF is responsible for supply and demand in an outbreak response – the rapid supply of safe and effective vaccines, and generating the demand in the community to ensure they seek the vaccine and can quickly protect their children from the virus.”

WHO’s Director of Polio Eradication, Dr Michel Zaffran, said the funding would support the roll-out of effective disease surveillance globally. “To eradicate poliovirus, we must know where it is,” Dr Zaffran said. “Korea’s contribution is key to ensuring that we can find poliovirus anywhere it still survives through sensitive disease surveillance mechanisms.”

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