GENEVA: The global five-year plan to eradicate polio received pledges of nearly $2.6 billion on Tuesday, the World Health Organization said, but nearly double the amount needed to complete the task.
While welcoming the generous pledges, the UN health agency stressed that there was still a long way to go in eliminating the crippling and potentially fatal viral disease by 2026.
She pointed to the increase in the number of cases detected this year, including in countries that have long been considered free from the highly contagious and often paralyzing virus, which mainly affects children under the age of five.
“New discoveries of polio this year in previously polio-free countries are a stark reminder that if we don’t meet our goal of eradicating polio everywhere, it could resurge globally,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
“We must remember the great challenges we have overcome to get this far against polio, stay the course and finish the job once and for all.”
In all, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) — a public-private partnership that counts the World Health Organization among its key partners — says it needs $4.8 billion for its 2022-2026 strategy to overcome the final hurdles to eradication.
During the Global Health Summit in Berlin – the first big opportunity to pledge support – countries and organizations confirmed that they would cover a large part of the funding needs.
Nearly half of the amount came from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which said it would provide $1.2 billion.
Rotary International has pledged $150 million, the United States $114 million, and Germany $72 million.
“No place is safe until polio is eradicated everywhere,” said German Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development Svenja Schulz.
“As long as the virus is still present somewhere in the world, it can spread.”
A massive global effort in recent decades has come close to eradicating polio.
Cases have decreased by 99% since 1988, when the disease was endemic in 125 countries and 350,000 cases were recorded worldwide.
The wild version of the virus is now only found in Afghanistan and Pakistan, although Malawi and Mozambique also detected imported cases of wild polio in 2022.
A type of vaccine containing small amounts of weakened but live polio still causes occasional outbreaks elsewhere, as recently in the United States and Britain.
OPV multiplies in the gut and can be transmitted to others through water contaminated with feces – meaning it will not harm a vaccinated child but may infect its neighbors in places where immunization levels are low.