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New €1 billion funding partnership launched to eradicate polio and strengthen health systems

A health worker administers a polio vaccine to a child at a railway station in Karachi, Pakistan, September 2023
A health worker administers a polio vaccine to a child at a railway station in Karachi, Pakistan, September 2023 Copyright AP Photo/Fareed Khan
Copyright AP Photo/Fareed Khan
By Lauren Chadwick
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The EU, European Investment Bank (EIB), and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation aim to contribute funding for global polio eradication.

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A new funding partnership aiming to write the “final chapter in the history of polio” was unveiled on Wednesday.

The European Commission, European Investment Bank (EIB), and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced that the joint partnership would provide around €1.1 billion to eradicate polio and make sure that health innovations are more accessible to low-income countries.

Half of the package - some €500 million - will be dedicated to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), including the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF’s efforts to eradicate polio.

It will be used in part to cover polio vaccinations for around 370 million children each year.

The other half of the financing package will be used to strengthen health systems in low-income countries.

“We need to keep up the good work that has begun in the wake of the pandemic,” said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen at a press conference.

“Together we will end polio. Together we will support all continents to produce the vaccines and medicines they need bc it should not matter where you are born [or] where you live. Health is a universal human right,” she added.

US billionaire and philanthropist Bill Gates, who is co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, added that “humanity has only eradicated a single disease - smallpox, and that was over 50 years ago but today we’re on the verge of ending another - wild poliovirus”.

Fewer than 10 wild polio cases have been reported globally this year and are limited to two countries, according to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI): Afghanistan and Pakistan.

There are also cases of vaccine-derived poliovirus related to the weakened live virus in the vaccine.

The “weakened virus can revert to a form that causes illness and paralysis” when circulating in under-vaccinated populations, according to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“I visited many of these communities where children are still being paralysed by polio, and of course, in low-income countries, it’s a devastating blow and all the more heartbreaking because it can be stopped,” Gates added.

He said vaccinating more children will contribute to full eradication, and that the rest of the resources will make sure that “cutting-edge life-saving innovations are available to people in low and middle-income countries”.

“Too often, health innovations get to low-income countries a decade or two decades after they get to rich countries and a big reason is the lack of access to financing instruments and investment,” Gates said.

He added that partners would develop more tools to protect people’s health.

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‘Final chapter’

Werner Hoyer, president of the European Investment Bank (EIB), said that the partnership would help to write “the final chapter in the history of polio and eradicate this disease forever”.

The World Health Assembly passed a resolution to eradicate polio in 1988, which led to the establishment of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.

Since then, polio cases have decreased by more than 99 per cent.

According to the CDC, as long as wild poliovirus continues to circulate in Afghanistan and Pakistan, all countries are at risk of importing the virus.

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Polio mainly affects children under the age of five. Around 1 in 200 infections could lead to paralysis, WHO says.

The last wild poliovirus case in Europe was reported in 1998.

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