Saudi Arabia delivers US$10 million toward polio eradication efforts

For seven countries in west Africa and Horn of Africa

For seven countries in west Africa and Horn of Africa
Rotary International/Chris Offer

Washington, D.C. — The United Nations Foundation today announced that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia had delivered $10 million of its $30 million commitment to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI). Half the funds will be used in 2011 by UNICEF for vaccines and a further US$ 5 million will go towards the World Health Organization (WHO) to support campaign operations. The remaining funds will be released in 2012 to support both agencies. Countries benefiting from the funds include several members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation countries, such as Yemen, Somalia and Sudan.

“This significant contribution will save thousands of children from the crippling and sometimes deadly effects of polio,” said Timothy E. Wirth, President of the UN Foundation. “This is more than a donation – it is a gift that symbolizes successful partnership among donors and an investment in health for millions of children.”

Polio is a disease that mainly affects children aged below five years and is known to cause lifelong paralysis and potentially fatal complications. Polio cannot be cured, but it can be prevented with a safe and effective oral vaccine that costs approximately fifty cents to deliver to a child. As a result of international efforts by the Global Polio Eradication Initiative to immunize every child, the vast majority of the world is now polio-free. The GPEI is supported by its spearheading partners, namely WHO, UNICEF, US Centers for Disease Control & Prevention and Rotary International as well as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the UN Foundation.

In 2011, polio remains endemic in only four countries — Nigeria, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. However, more than 20 countries are affected by the spread of the wild polio virus, and the recent resurgence of the disease in Russia and the Central Asian Republics and very recently in China — after more than 10 polio-free years is proof that if the virus is not eradicated everywhere, it can re-emerge anywhere.

WHO Assistant Director-General for Polio, Emergencies and Country Collaboration, Dr. Bruce Aylward welcomed the contribution: “This new commitment from Saudi Arabia enables the last steps towards the eradication of this ancient disease, and we hope it will inspire others in the region to bring their considerable financial and political support to ending polio and protecting the most vulnerable.”

Polio was endemic in more than half the world’s countries and the highly infectious disease paralyzed hundreds of thousands of children every year less than half a century ago. Fortunately, an effective vaccine was introduced in the 1950s and 1960s, but in 1988 an estimated 350,000 polio cases still occurred annually. Since the launch of the GPEI that year, polio cases globally have decreased by over 99% by 2010, when fewer than 1,350 cases were reported globally during the course of the year.

“The fight against polio is a global challenge for all of us,” said Anthony Lake, UNICEF Executive Director. “Its defeat will be a ringing victory for all of humanity – marking only the second time in history a disease has been eradicated. With this generous donation from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia we move closer to achieving this goal, and to saving millions of people from the threat of this crippling disease.”

The United Nations Foundation

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