Polio hasn’t been seen in the UK in over 30 years.
But today Britain saw something for the very first time.
On World Polio Day, politicians from opposite ends of the spectrum joined Paralympic medalist and polio survivor Ade Adepitan in Trafalgar Square for a very special basketball match with members of the British Paralympic basketball team.
The catch? The politicians had to be in wheelchairs too.
Adepitan, a basketball world champion, first spent some time introducing newcomers to the difficulties of sport in a wheelchair. For the likes of Olympic medalists Gregg Warburton, Siobhán Fitzpatrick, Robyn Love and more, the wheels were well worn. But for others only used to the election cycle, it took some time to hone the skill.
But the improvement was sensational — and whether it was Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood riding backwards and scoring with a looped shot behind his head or massive three-pointers attempted from opposite ends of the court, the quality on display did not just come from Team GB.
The match with Rotary, the One Last Push Campaign, RESULTS UK, and Global Citizen was a celebration of progress. Polio has been 99% eradicated, and we’ve never been closer to ridding the planet of the disease forever. There are 16 million people walking today — nearly twice the population of London — who would have otherwise been paralysed without the eradication efforts of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI). But the game is far from over.
“It’s a terrible and debilitating disease, and with only 37 cases left in the world — in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nigeria — there’s a tremendous opportunity now to finish the job,” Stephen Kinnock, Labour MP for Aberavon, told Global Citizen after the match. Britain has a responsibility to lead, he said, and can do so with well funded international development.
“I think UK aid is the perfect example of enlightened self interest — it’s just the right thing to do,” Kinnock continued. “I”m a global citizen because I know that it’s in everybody’s interests to work together. Through the strength of our collective endeavour we achieve far more than we do alone.”
Elbows occasionally flew as the game got heated. Conservative MPs Nadhim Zahawi and Gillian Keegan battled it out on opposing teams, while Kinnock described Under-Secretary State for Defence Tobias Ellwood as the “dirtiest wheelchair basketball I’ve ever played with.”
This was great fun even though some dodgy tactics were on display from the yellow team...! https://t.co/NNYJan7fL9— Gillian Keegan (@GillianKeegan) October 24, 2017
Other parliamentarians present at the match included Nigel Huddleston, Toby Perkins, Liz McInnes, Jo Churchill, Tulip Siddiq, Rehman Chishti, Sajjad Karim, Damian Collins, and Baroness Vere. But one important reason brought them all together.
“It’s all in the spirit of the game,” said Tobias Ellwood MP. “It was a real pleasure to participate today, and be part of an effort that as a government, through our DfID (Department for International Development) programs, are trying to end the threat of polio.”
Ellwood refers to Britain’s recent £100 million investment in global polio eradication. This crucial funding from the UK aid budget will immunise 45 million children against the disease every single year until 2020, or 80 children a minute, saving more than 65,000 children from paralysis annually. The announcement came after Global Citizens took 480,000 actions — tweets, emails, and petition signatures — in partnership with RESULTS UK and the One Last Push Campaign.
Toby Perkins, Labour MP for Chesterfield, acknowledged that Ellwood scored most of the goals, but “gave away most of the free throws too.” Yet despite cross-party competitiveness, Conservative and Labour MPs agreed on one important point: it’s our responsibility as an influential world power to ensure we use UK aid to eradicate polio forever.
“Obviously where we have, as a race, the capacity to end something that’s been so debilitating for generations, it must be a goal for this generation to look towards,” Perkins told us, describing eradication as a “priority for the global community.”
With help from UK aid, we’ve never been so close to banishing polio to the annals of history. Help us thank the British government for committing funds to the battle, saving millions more from preventable paralysis.