Afghanistan + 7 more

£60m boost to eradicate polio

International Development Secretary Hilary Benn today announced a multi-million pound package of funding to eradicate polio by end 2005/early 2006, and to boost the effort to ensure the world stays polio free thereafter.

He said the UK is to provide £60m over the next three years.

The UK is to immediately and unilaterally plug the remaining funding gap of £20m ($36m) so that polio can be eradicated. The UK will also give another £40m in 2006-08 towards the cost of vaccinating over 500m children to ensure polio can never break out again.

There are 12 countries where there are still cases of polio: Yemen, Nigeria, Indonesia, Sudan, India, Ethiopia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Niger, Mali, Cameroon and Angola. Polio mainly affects children under five and disproportionately affects children in Africa; in 2004, 90% of the 1,255 cases were found in the region.

The money will go towards:

- providing vaccines and immunisation;

- paying health workers to carry out the immunisation programme;

- investing in laboratories to ensure the right vaccine is available for the different strains of the virus; and

- putting in place systems to identify new cases and provide help as soon as possible.

Announcing the funding, Hilary Benn said:

"The international community's fight against polio is one of the real success stories in the global campaign to combat poverty.

"In 1982, polio was eradicated in the UK, but was still a major cause of death and paralysis amongst children in developing countries. In 1988, the World Health Assembly announced the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (PEI) - a worldwide programme of action to fight the disease. Seventeen years ago, there were 350,000 cases reported. Last year there were 1,255 cases - a fall of over 99%. The funding I have announced today will, together with other contributions already made, fulfil a long standing G8 pledge to fully fund the final effort to eradicate the disease.

"The polio eradication campaign has been an unprecedented global coalition. Led by the World Health Organisation, UNICEF, the US Centres for Disease Control and Rotary International, the campaign has, for example, had the strong backing of traditional and Islamic leaders in Somalia, and saw Islamic leaders from Saudi Arabia travelling to northern Nigeria to reassure religious leaders there about the safety of the vaccine.

"And it even saw warring parties in places like Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Sierra Leone agreeing to momentary ceasefires so that health workers could get in and vaccinate children. As recently as January this year, rebels and government forces in Darfur stopped fighting to let the heath workers in."

"But we cannot stop here. Ensuring polio never breaks out again will cost over £400m between 2006 and 2008. That's why today I have also announced that we will contribute £40m to this post-eradication effort. I call on others to do the same."

Notes for editors

Polio - a highly infectious disease caused by a virus - invades the nervous system and can cause total paralysis within hours. The virus enters the body through the mouth and multiplies in the intestine.

Initial symptoms are fever, fatigue, headache, vomiting and stiffness in the neck and pain in the limbs. One in 200 infections leads to irreversible paralysis, usually in the legs. Among those who are paralysed, 5-10% die when their breathing muscles become immobilised.

Since 2000, the number of cases of polio have been: 2000 - 719; 2001 - 483; 2002 - 1,918; 2003 - 784; 2004 - 1,255; 2005 (1January to 28 June) - 616.

There is no cure for polio, it can only be prevented. The polio vaccine, given multiple times, can protect a child for life.