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New funding for polio - Potential for the infectious disease to make a comeback

Published:Sunday | October 30, 2011 | 12:00 AM
From left: The president of Nigeria, His Excellency Goodluck Jonathon; the prime minister of Canada, the Right Honourable Stephen Harper; polio survivor Ramesh Ferris; the prime minister of The United Kingdom - see full caption at the end of story.
McPherse Thompson, Assistant Business Editor

Perth, Western Australia:The Australian government and the Bill Gates Foundation have announced just over US$93 million in new funding to help eradicate polio-myelitis, a debilitating disease that continues to strike the most vulnerable people, especially children.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard said Australia will provide $50 million (US$53.3 million) over four years to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative to help purchase vaccines, monitor outbreaks, and respond when and where needed.

Australia's support will help take the final steps to achieve worldwide polio eradication, Gillard told a news conference at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting at the Perth Convention and Exhibition Centre on Saturday.

She was joined by British Prime Minister David Cameron, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Pakistan Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani to make the announcement.

Microsoft chairman Bill Gates joined the leaders via video link - recorded and shown to the press conference - to announce a US$40 million contribution to the eradication programme on behalf of the Gates Foundation and in support of the Commonwealth commitments.

The conference heard that since the eradication initiative was launched in the two decades since 1988, significant global progress has been made to reduce the number of polio cases.

The disease has now been estimated to have been eradicated by up to 99 per cent, and remains endemic in only four countries - Afghanistan and three members of the Commonwealth, namely India, Nigeria, and Pakistan.

strong partnerships

The Australian prime minister has applauded the leadership shown by India, Nigeria and Pakistan in their ongoing efforts to eradicate the disease.

"We welcome global progress and encourage Commonwealth members to remain committed to overcome the final hurdles in polio eradication," Gillard said.

"The importance of strong partnerships between affected countries, donors and organisations like the Gates Foundation, Rotary International and the Global Poverty Project, in achieving eradication must also be recognised," said the prime minister.

Also documented as vital to the elimination of the disease have been the continued work of the Gates Foundation and Rotary International, as well as the personal contributions of many Australians, including Sir Clem Renouf, who in the 1970s, as Rotary president, led the international campaign to vaccinate every child against polio.

Jamaica reported the last case of polio in 1982 and saw the declaration of the region of the Americas as polio-free in 1994. However, indications of the potential for the infectious disease to make a comeback was realised in 2000 when neighbouring Dominican Republic and Haiti saw a resurgence of polio cases.

Last year, the Jamaica National Building Society donated US$2,500 to the Rotary Club of St Andrew North, US$2,000 of which was earmarked for the global polio eradication programme.

The Global Polio Eradication Initiative is a public-private partnership led by national governments in collaboration with the World Health Organisation, Rotary International, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the United Nations Children's Fund, with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Australia's contribution to polio eradication is part of its broader commitment to saving the lives of children and women in developing countries and its $1.6-billion commitment to maternal and child health over the five years to 2015, according to a bulletin from the prime minister's office.

It said increasing routine immunisation around the world has helped reduce the number of child deaths from 12.4 million in 1990 to 7.6 million in 2010.

Full Caption

From left: The president of Nigeria, His Excellency Goodluck Jonathon; the prime minister of Canada, the Right Honourable Stephen Harper; polio survivor Ramesh Ferris; the prime minister of The United Kingdom, the Right Honourable David Cameron; the prime minister of Pakistan, His Excellency Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani; and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, announce initiatives on polio at the Perth Convention and Exhibition Centre yesterday. -- Contributed