Perth: Significant fresh funding has been announced to help eradicate polio, a disease that afflicts people in four countries — three of them in the Commonwealth.
India, Pakistan and Nigeria — apart from Afghanistan, which is not a Commonwealth member — are the countries where polio is still endemic.
However, India — where the disease is limited to just two states — has not reported any fresh case since January this year, raising the hope that it has been successful in its battle against the debilitating disease that strikes the world’s most vulnerable people, especially children.
At a press conference Saturday, Australian Prime Minister and Commonwealth Chair Julia Gillard came together with British Prime Minister David Cameron, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Pakistan Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani to announce $50 million for the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI).
Bill Gates joined the leaders via video to announce a new $40 million contribution on behalf of the Gates Foundation and in support of the Commonwealth commitments.
Prime Minister Gilani blamed the huge influx of refugees from Afghanistan as well as the orthodoxy of the tribals inhabiting the country’s western border areas for the continuing prevalence of polio in his country.
“There is a lot of cross-border movement from Afghanistan as we are in the middle of a war. Because of this, doctors cannot reach those areas,” Gilani said.
Harper said that polio eradication was a key priority of Canada’s mission in Afghanistan.
Gillard, who applauded the leadership shown by India, Nigeria, and Pakistan in their ongoing efforts to eradicate polio, said: “We welcome global progress and encourage Commonwealth members to remain committed to overcome the final hurdles in polio eradication.”
Significant global progress has been made over the past two decades to reduce the number of polio cases by 99 per cent since the GPEI was launched in 1988.