The Gates Foundation is committing $1.2 billion to eradicating polio worldwide

BERLIN (AP) – The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation says it will allocate $1.2 billion to efforts to eradicate polio worldwide.

The money will be used to implement the Global Polio Eradication Initiative strategy through 2026. The initiative is trying to end the polio virus Pakistan and Afghanistanthe last two endemic countries, the foundation said in a statement on Sunday.

The money will also be used to stop outbreaks of new variants of the virus. The announcement was made at the World Health Summit in Berlin on Sunday.

The foundation says in a statement on its website that it has contributed nearly $5 billion to the Polio Eradication Initiative. The initiative seeks to integrate polio campaigns into broader health services while expanding use of the novel type 2 oral polio vaccine.

The group is also working to strengthen national health systems so countries are better prepared for future health threats, the statement said.

“The final steps to eradication are by far the hardest. But our foundation remains committed to a polio-free future, and we’re optimistic that we will see it soon,” said Mark Suzman, CEO of the foundation.

Pakistan has reported 20 polio cases so far this year, all in the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Afghanistan, which has registered two cases this year, previously had no access to vaccines due to violence and the Taliban banning polio teams in areas under its control. However, last year, just months after taking over Afghanistan, the Taliban agreed to allow United Nations health workers to launch a nationwide campaign.

Pakistan has long struggled with Islamist militants who target polio workers and police for their protection, falsely claiming vaccination is a Western campaign to sterilize children. This year faces the added challenge of unprecedented rains destroying road networks and health facilities, curtailing immunization campaigns and displacing communities.

Despite the billions of dollars that have been poured into polio eradication efforts since 1988 — the program costs about $1 billion each year — the World Health Organization and its partners have repeatedly missed deadlines to eradicate the disease and have been widely criticized for meeting challenges . For example, in recent years there have been more cases of polio associated with the oral vaccine used in eradication efforts than those caused by the wild virus.

Numerous experts have also questioned whether more money is needed to eradicate polio, as the initiative is already one of the best-funded in the global public health arena and has rarely faced funding shortfalls. Although WHO and its partners have reduced the incidence of polio by more than 99%, most of this progress has been made in the first 10 years. The disease still has stubborn roots in war-torn regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan, and in recent years there have been dozens of vaccine-induced outbreaks in Africa and elsewhere, including the United States and Israel.

An independent panel formed to assess the progress of eradication efforts has repeatedly identified significant strategic mistakes by countries, WHO and their donors, and warned that their reluctance to change course, among other things, could eventually allow a polio resurgence.

The eradication initiative is a public-private partnership led by a group of national governments that includes the Gates FoundationRotary International, the World Health Organization, and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Gates Foundation is committing $1.2 billion to eradicating polio worldwide

Dais Johnston

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