The UK’s International Development Secretary Alok Sharma has just pledged enough new UK aid support to help vaccinate 400 million children every year against polio.
The funding, announced on Tuesday, will go to supporting the work of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) — a worldwide partnership that works to eradicate polio forever.
Alongside contributions from other donors to the multi-agency initiative, the UK’s £400 million in funding will help to support 20 million health workers and volunteers to deliver the vaccines.
The money will help pay for tens of millions of polio vaccines — enough to vaccinate up to 750 children a minute — and will run from 2020 to 2023.
Bill Gates, the co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which is part of GPEI, said in a statement: “We have the ability to wipe polio off the face of the planet. But that will require more support to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.”
“I’m excited to see the UK leading the way on this front,” he added. “Their generosity will make a huge difference in eradicating this disease once and for all.”
Meanwhile Jim Bailey, a 63-year-old polio survivor from Belfast, said of the new funding: “No child should have to go through what I and so many others have been through.”
“On my recent visit to Pakistan I saw for myself how UK aid is helping to end polio once and for all,” he added. “This new UK aid support is great news, helping to pave the way for a polio-free world.”
Polio — a virus that can be fatal, or leave survivors with life-long disabilities — was wiped out in the 1980s thanks to vaccinations, and is now 99.9% eradicated globally.
But three countries — Nigeria, Pakistan, and Afghanistan — still see cases of the disease (although Nigeria has not had a case since 2016). While polio still exists anywhere, it means that children everywhere are at risk of contracting it.
Combating and preventing the spread of polio is crucial to fulfilling the UN’s Global Goal 3 for health and wellbeing for everyone, which includes specific targets to improve access to vaccines and end the preventable deaths of children under five by 2030.
Global Citizens have been piling on the pressure to urge their governments to step up and help stamp out polio for good. Global Citizens have taken over 77,000 actions calling on the UK government to step up and pledge more to the initiative, in the run-up to Tuesday’s announcement.
We also gave @AWMurrison a book filled with 500 messages from Global Citizens - all urging the UK to confine polio to history.— Global Citizen UK (@GlblCtznUK) July 16, 2019
Here he is, reading it!
“If we can eradicate it for good then it will make a huge difference to future generations,” wrote Katie from Brotton. pic.twitter.com/UK7yv6CrBF
In July, Global Citizen alongside activists Colin Powel and Hauwa Mohammed met with Minister of State at FCO & DFID, Andrew Murrison urging the UK to commit to ending polio.
At the meeting, we discussed the great support Britain has already given to the global effort to eradicate polio and to call on the UK to keep pushing through that last 0.1%.
MP Dr. Philippa Whitford, chair of the UK"s All-Party Parliamentary Group on Vaccinations, was also at the meeting and shared a personal message of support to the over 27,700 Global Citizens who had taken action by putting their name to a petition calling on the UK government to continue its investment in vaccines.
"Well done for stepping forward and adding your name," she said. "I think [the minister] was impressed at the sheer scale of it."
The hope is that by 2023 polio will be completely eliminated, but more work is still required and we can’t get complacent. Global issues such as conflict and climate change increase the likelihood of mass movements of populations — and make it even harder to reach every child with vaccinations.
“We have made tremendous progress to fight this debilitating disease, but our work must continue if we are to eradicate it forever,” Sharma said, making the announcement.
“If we were to pull back on immunisations, we could see 200,000 new cases each year in a decade,” he continued. “ This would not only be a tragedy for the children affected and their families, but also for the world. We cannot let this happen.”
Disclosure: The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is a funding partner of Global Citizen.
Editor's note: This piece has been updated to include a disclosure that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is a funding partner of Global Citizen. We regret the oversight.