The UK has pledged £100m to the global fight against polio, in an attempt to eradicate the debilitating disease by 2020.
The cash, to be announced by the international development secretary, , on Friday, will fund the immunisation of 45 million children a year until 2020. The last case of polio is likely to be announced in 2017 and there would then need to be three years without a single case to prove eradication.
Thirty years ago, more than 350,000 people a year were disabled by polio, with the highly contagious virus present in more than 125 countries. Since then, polio has been reduced by more than 99.9%. It still exists in just three countries: , and . There have been eight new cases this year in total.
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“Polio has no place in the 21st century,” said Patel. “This devastating and highly infectious disease causes painful paralysis and is incurable – trapping the world’s poorest people in a cycle of grinding poverty.
“The UK has been at the forefront of fighting global health threats, including polio, and our last push towards eradication by 2020 will save 45 million children from contracting this disease.
“The world is closer than it ever has been to eradicating polio for good, but as long as just one case exists in the world, children everywhere are still at risk. Now it is time for others to step up, follow Britain’s lead and make polio history.”
In June, at Rotary International’s annual convention in Atlanta, global leaders of the estimated $1.5bn required to eradicate the disease. The UK’s contribution has closed the funding gap to $170m.
Britain has a long-standing commitment to make polio the second disease in history to be eradicated, after smallpox.
Jim Calverley, the polio lead at Results UK, an anti-poverty advocacy group, said: “The UK has been very much at the forefront of polio eradication. It wouldn’t be right to say that the money the Department for International Development has provided will do it on its own, but it will have a massive impact on leveraging other countries to step up.
“We all desperately hope that this year, 2017, will be the last year that a case of polio is diagnosed.”
The last case of polio in was in July 2016, so it could potentially be declared polio-free in 2019, said Calverley.
However, there is little room for complacency, said Calverley. “The numbers belie the fact that, for every person who displays symptoms, a further 199 are carrying the disease without symptoms. That is why it is such a dangerous disease. The numbers can shoot up.”
Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, one of five partners of the Global Eradication Initiative, a private-public partnership that includes the World Heath Organization, said the world was close to ending polio: “It’s fantastic to see such a generous pledge from the UK to the global effort to eradicate polio. With the steadfast commitment of key partners like the UK government and dedicated health care workers around the world, we are very close to ending polio forever.
“Thanks to the generosity of the British public, children everywhere can live healthier, more prosperous lives and thrive in a polio-free world.”