Today the United Nations Foundation announced a pledge of US$25,000 from the Government of the Republic of Estonia to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI). Estonia is the first country to make a contribution since the World Health Assembly declared polio eradication a programmatic worldwide public health emergency.
In the next few weeks, the pledge will be granted to UNICEF to support immunization and social mobilization programs to end polio. Polio cases have been reduced by 99 percent. This all-time low presents the best opportunity in history to end polio, which could otherwise spread quickly from the three countries where it survives. Global support is critical to ending this crippling and fatal disease.
“Estonia’s pledge demonstrates that every country, no matter the size, can help save thousands of lives from the crippling effects of polio,” said Timothy E. Wirth, president of the UN Foundation. “We hope this significant gift will kickstart the urgent multilateral commitment needed to eradicate this terrible disease.”
Polio is a virus that can cause lifelong paralysis and in some cases is fatal. Although there is no cure, a safe, oral vaccine can prevent the disease for life. Championed by Estonian Ambassador to Washington Marina Kaljurand, the generous gift will contribute to the polio immunization program in Afghanistan, helping to protect tens of thousands of children from the virus. Estonia is the 21st out of the 27 European Union member states to join in supporting GPEI, and the 43rd government worldwide.
“Without emergency financial support, we are not just slowing down our progress in fighting polio, we are reversing the hard work that brought us to achieve this 99 percent reduction in polio cases worldwide,” said Julie Hall, polio team lead for UNICEF. “We are grateful for Estonia’s contribution to help polio eradication succeed, and hope that other governments will join this movement to stop this disease once and for all.”
The financial benefit of eradicating polio is projected to be US$ 40-50 billion, which should be a powerful incentive for donor governments at a time of international economic slowdown. However, the program has a funding shortfall of hundreds of millions of dollars for this year and the next. The humanitarian and financial costs of polio continuing to paralyze children are demonstrated by recent resurgences of polio cases in polio-free countries like China and across west Africa. Until eradicated completely, the disease can reemerge at any time. Thanks to immunization advocacy by the partners leading GPEI, which include Rotary International, UNICEF, WHO, and US Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the UN Foundation, most of the world is now polio-free. Since the founding of the GPEI in 1988, the overall number of polio cases worldwide has decreased from 350,000 to 650 in 2011.
About the United Nations Foundation
The United Nations Foundation, a public charity, was created in 1998 with entrepreneur and philanthropist Ted Turner’s historic $1 billion gift to support UN causes and activities. The UN Foundation builds and implements public/private partnerships to address the world’s most pressing problems, and works to broaden support for the UN through advocacy and public outreach. Through campaigns and partnerships, the organization connects people, ideas, and resources to help the UN solve global problems. The campaigns reduce child mortality, empower women and girls, create a new energy future, secure peace and human rights, and promote technology innovation to improve health outcomes. These solutions are helping the UN advance the eight global targets known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). For more information, visit www.unfoundation.org.
About the Global Polio Eradication Initiative
The Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) is spearheaded by national governments, the World Health Organization (WHO), Rotary International, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and UNICEF, and supported by key partners including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Since 1988 (the year the GPEI was launched), the incidence of polio has been reduced by more than 99%. In 1988, more than 350,000 children were paralyzed each year in more than 125 endemic countries. In 2012, 67 cases have been reported (as of 6 June 2012), and only three countries remain endemic: Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan. For more information, visit www.polioeradication.org.