European leaders announce new financing partnership to deliver a healthier, polio-free world
BRUSSELS, 11 October 2023
BRUSSELS, 11 October 2023 – Today, the European Commission (EC), the European Investment Bank (EIB) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), along with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) announced a new financing partnership to advance polio eradication efforts and strengthen healthcare systems. Of the expected €1.1 billion, €500 million in new funding will go to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) – specifically to its implementing partners, WHO and UNICEF – and €500 million to programs that expand innovation and research capacity in low- and middle-income countries.
This announcement comes at a critical time for global eradication efforts. When the GPEI was established in 1988, wild poliovirus paralyzed an estimated 350,000 children in over 125 countries every year. Today, only two endemic countries remain – Pakistan and Afghanistan – and 80% of variant poliovirus cases are found in only four subnational regions. Promising trends in affected countries, like shrinking genetic diversity of the virus and increasingly geographically confined outbreaks, suggest that in most places the virus is on its last leg.
Now, new commitments from European leaders puts the program one step closer to seizing the historic opportunity we have to overcome final hurdles and end polio for good. The expected funds will allow polio vaccinations to reach nearly 370 million children annually, with a focus on targeting remaining un- or under-vaccinated children who typically live in some of the world’s hardest-to-reach areas.
By focusing on such communities, the program is able to deliver broader health benefits to low resource settings, including routine immunizations, counseling on breastfeeding, Vitamin A supplementation and more. This not only fosters healthier communities today, but also strengthens health systems to better prepare for and respond to emerging health threats, as the polio program and workforce has done against COVID-19, Ebola, and other diseases.
Partners announced the new financing partnership at the “Healthy Hopes: Reasons for optimism in science and global cooperation” event in Brussels. The event featured a keynote speech from Stella Kyriakides, European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, remarks from Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO, and a panel discussion featuring Catherine Russell, Executive Director of UNICEF and European leaders – Koen Doens, Director-General at the EC’s Directorate General for International Partnerships, Werner Hoyer, President of the EIB, and Caroline Gennez, Belgium’s Minister for Development. The event concluded with a fireside chat with Bill Gates, Co-Chair of the BMGF.
European leaders re-affirmed their commitment to ending polio for good and called on the rest of the world to join them and the GPEI partners in the fight for a polio-free world. They underscored the need for global cooperation in the final stretch to eradicate this devastating disease.
In his remarks, Dr. Tedros reminded attendees about the incredible progress that has been made toward a polio-free world, the tools and strategies we have at our disposal that will get the job done, and the importance of donors like the EC and EIB in unlocking the GPEI’s ability to utilize them. Catherine Russell reinforced the ever-narrowing window of opportunity we have to end polio for good and affirmed her confidence in the program’s ability to stop all virus transmission in the immediate future while meeting the broader health needs of communities now.
During the fireside chat, Bill Gates expressed his optimism about what this new investment represents for the future of eradication efforts and global health. By finding innovative ways to partner, European leaders are helping us achieve a world where no child is paralyzed by this preventable disease.
Increased support from donors, leaders of polio-affected countries and partners is essential to protect the incredible progress made so far, achieve high vaccination coverage and end polio for good. A polio-free world is in sight, but stakeholders at all levels must stay committed to achieving this goal and building strong health systems to protect children today and future generations.