Governments and global leaders pledged more than $2.6 billion to end polio at the Reaching the Last Mile (RLM) Forum in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday.
The event brings total fundraising for the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI)’s 2019-2023 Polio Endgame Strategy campaign closer to its goal for $3.27 billion, which will allow the organization to escalate its vaccination campaigns around the world, especially among at-risk populations. Last month, the GPEI announced that two of the three strains of the wild poliovirus had been eradicated. The final strain is endemic in just two countries — Pakistan and Afghanistan — where rampant poverty and conflict have made vaccination programs difficult to implement.
The new funds will help the GPEI reach its goal of protecting 450 million children from polio annually.
“From supporting one of the world’s largest health workforces to reaching every last child with vaccines, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative is not only moving us closer to a polio-free world, it’s also building essential health infrastructure to address a range of other health needs,” said Director-General of the World Health Organization and Chair of the Polio Oversight Board Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in a press release.
Top donor countries at the RLM event included Abu Dhabi ($160 million), the United States ($215.92 million), Pakistan ($160 million), Germany ($105.05 million), and Nigeria ($10.83 million), Norway ($10.83 million), and Australia ($10.29 million). Earlier in the month, the United Kingdom committed $514.8 million to the GPEI.
Various nonprofits and foundations made significant donations to the cause, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which committed $1.08 billion. Rotary International chipped in $150 million and Bloomberg Philanthropies committed $50 million.
These funds will help GPEI and other organizations reach every child with a polio vaccination, expand health care infrastructure in poor communities, train health care workers, promote gender equality in health care, and distribute vaccines for other diseases like measles and yellow fever.
“To succeed by 2023, all involved in this effort must find ways to excel in their roles,” the chairs of the GPEI’s advisory boards wrote in a statement earlier this year. “If this happens, success will follow.”
“This means stepping up the level of performance even further,” they added. “It means using the proven tools of eradication and building blocks that have been established in parts of the world that have been free of polio for years. The vaccines, the cold chains, the networks of vaccinators, the surveillance capacity, the governance, policy, financing, and oversight structures must be at peak levels of performance. There must be an unrelenting focus to tighten the management of the effort at all levels.”
Polio used to be a global menace, killing more than half a million people per year at its peak in the middle of the 20th century, and paralyzing millions more.
Since then, countries mobilized to eradicate the disease. They’ve managed to reduce infections by 99.9%, and have made polio a scary story of the past for most people worldwide.
But unless countries commit to bringing new infections to zero, outbreaks could occur anywhere. In recent years, outbreaks have occurred in Papua New Guinea and the Democratic Republic of Congo due to lax enforcement of vaccines.
In the years ahead, if polio is allowed to persist, infections could explode, affecting tens of thousands of people annually.
“As long as poliovirus still exists in any part of the world (as it currently does in Afghanistan and Pakistan), all children are at risk; therefore, we must maintain the momentum toward regional and global certification,” Dr. Peter Clement, the WHO officer in charge for Nigeria, said in a recent statement.
Correction: A previous version of this story indicated that polio was still endemic in Nigeria, as well as in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Nigeria officially celebrated three years without any new wild polio cases in August and will therefore soon be certified as polio-free.