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Closing in on a world without polio

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A world without polio is now ‘tantalisingly’ close International Development Secretary Justine Greening told guests during her keynote speech at a Rotary International reception.

They were gathered to celebrate that in February 2014 India was officially declared polio-free, having successfully immunised tens of millions of children every year since 1995. This incredible achievement means that the whole of South-East Asia, and 80% of the world, is now completely polio free.

Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan are the last remaining polio-endemic countries while others continue to be at risk of transmission across borders. In particular, conflict countries like Syria present ongoing challenges, but despite this 25 million children across the region have now been vaccinated.

With representatives from India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Indonesia, along with key polio campaigners and global health bodies, Ms Greening was able to speak directly to those who, alongside the UK, can help make a world without polio a reality.

Through a partnership with the government of Bihar, involving training front line workers to reach “Every Child, Every Time,” the UK has played a part in eliminating polio from India. At the Abu Dhabi Vaccine summit last year the UK pledged up to £300 million over six years to help vaccinate some 360 million children.

Justine Greening said:

“Given that just 5 years ago India accounted for more than half of the world’s children contracting polio every year, the scale of their achievement cannot be underestimated. India should take immense pride in its new-found polio-free status and the UK is also proud to have a played a part.

“While this achievement deserves to be celebrated there is still more to be done to consign polio to the history books along with smallpox. Investments in polio eradication are not only the right thing to do, they also represent very good value for money. Polio eradication by 2018 will help prevent more than 8 million cases of life-long paralysis, with net economic benefits of up to $50 billion.

“We have the tools and we have the vaccines, but continuing political will and strong global partnerships are vital to achieving our goal of a world without polio.”

John Kenny Chair of Trustees of Rotary Foundation said:

“We celebrate today what represents a decisive battle victory, but the war is yet to be won. We must remain united and unflagging in our support – as we did in India – to address the remaining challenges.”

Also present at the event were two survivors of polio Arun and Bina Patel. Struck down by the debilitating disease at just 1 and 2 respectively both Arun and Bina have refused to let it win. Arun is the founder of children’s charity, Polio Children, that has raised over £1.2m to fund projects in India and Tanzania, while Bina has enjoyed a successful career spanning over 25 years at British Airways.

Case study – Bina Patel

Bina was born in Nairobi, Kenya, and lived in a small town called Athi River, about 20 miles south of Nairobi. She was just 2 and a half years old when she came down with a high fever and her body took on a reddish tint. Her mum took her to see the family doctor in Nairobi where an examination revealed that she had contracted polio. It paralysed her from the waist down and she had no mobility at all in her legs. She was admitted into hospital and stayed there for a month until she could sit up without any support.

When she reached school age, none of the schools would admit her unless without a carer so her parents had to recruit a carer who would be with round the clock. Bina’s parents valued good education and ultimately decided it was best for the family to move to England.

By that stage Bina was able to walk with the aid of callipers and crutches and had quite a few operations on her legs during her first few years in England. Bina went to a local day school for disabled children and was transported to the school in a local authority school bus. However, she found the education at this school very repetitive and with the help of her orthopaedic consultant Bina moved to the Florence Treloar School in Hampshire.

Not only did she receive a great education she was encouraged to take advantage of many extracurricular activities such as swimming, canoeing, basketball, and archery. Florence Trelor School gave Bina the confidence to be independent and through this she learnt to drive, passing the test on her first attempt.

In between finishing school and starting college Bina had to have a major spinal fusion surgery. This sadly meant she could no longer walk with the aid of callipers and was confined to a wheelchair. This meant life had to adapt, but through great personal strength and the support of her family, Bina succeeded and completed her education with a degree in business studies.

For the past 26 years she has worked full time for British Airways in various positions and thoroughly enjoys the job. She remains positive and confident in pursuing an active and fulfilling personal and professional life.

Bina’s Dad, Uncle and cousin, Vijay are all members of Rotary clubs and she is extremely proud of this fact and of all the organisation has done to try and eradicate polio once and for all.

Case study – Arun Patel

Leading by example, Arun has directly impacted the lives of more than 1000 children afflicted with polio. A polio victim since age 1, he has never forgotten the odds he had to overcome to attain success in his personal and professional life just to be accepted by society. In 2002, he formed a charity, Polio Children, and invested a large sum of his own money to build a 140-bed hostel for girls in rural India.

Over the years, this facility has provided a safe haven to more than 300 girls many of whom have gone on to obtain university degrees, secure well-paying jobs, and get married to able-bodied men. Recognising that children with polio stood the best chance of attaining independence in adult life only if their basic needs were met during their formative years, he sold off his thriving accountancy practice in 2006 to devote his energies full-time to the cause - despite deteriorating health due to post-polio syndrome.

Through his relentless efforts, Polio Children has raised almost $2 million (£ 1.2 m) to fund projects for poor children with polio in India (SKSN) and in Tanzania (Kwa Mkono - KM).

Arun approaches each day with humility in his heart and wisdom in his mind. He knows firsthand what it feels to be ostracized and the odds a physically handicapped child has to overcome in order to join the mainstream of society as an equal partner. By giving hope and treating every one of them with dignity, it is his mission to ensure that no child with polio is ever left behind.

Facts and Figures

UK contribution

•The UK has pledged £300 million over the next six years to help eradicate polio. The Global Polio Eradication Initiative’s (GPEI) aim is to eradicate the disease by 2018. £100m of the £300m was disbursed in November 2013.

•Britain also provided an additional £10 million to the GPEI in August 2013 to immunise more than six million people in Somalia and Kenya to help contain the Horn of Africa outbreak.

•The UK has since provided a further £1.8 million to UNICEF to help their vaccination efforts in Somalia, and £2m for Syria.

•The four GPEI founding partners are World Health Organisation, UNICEF, Rotary International and the Center for Disease Control (CDC). Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is an unofficial spearheading partner.

Notes to editors

1.In the last 20 years, polio cases have fallen by more than 99% with the launch of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) in 1988, from 350,000 cases to 222 cases in 2012. Case numbers jumped to 416 in 2013 largely because of outbreaks in the Horn of Africa, Syria and Pakistan.

2.In January 2013 India (previously endemic) recorded two years with no polio cases. The scale of the polio eradication effort is huge. In 2012, more than 2 billion doses of oral polio vaccine (OPV) were administered to more than 429 million children in 45 countries.

3.Afghanistan Nigeria and Pakistan comprise the last three polio-endemic countries. Many other countries are at risk of transmission from these three countries, especially those that are poor, remote and affected by conflict. The outbreak in the Horn of Africa flared up in May 2013, affecting Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia and South Sudan centred largely on the refugee camps. Millions of children aged up to 15 were immunised in two rapid campaigns.

4.As well as the UK, the US, Germany, Japan, Norway, Canada and Australia are bilateral core contributors to GPEI and active like-minded donor allies. Historically the UK contribution to the end 2012 was over £600m. The estimated budget needed to complete eradication and certification by 2018 is some $5.5 bn. 5.Failure to eradicate polio would result in estimated 10 million paralysed children in the next 40 years and negate the world’s global investment so far.

6.Rotary International is one of the four original founding partners of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), along with the World Health Organisation, UNICEF and the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Since 1988 they have contributed just over $1.2bn.

7.DFID and India: In November 2012, the Secretary of State for International Development, Justine Greening, announced that the UK and India will move to a new development relationship. We will end financial grant aid to India by 2015, after honouring all our commitments to on-going projects . After 2015 our partnership will focus on sharing skills and expertise in priority areas such a growth, trade and investment, skills and health, or on making investments in private sector projects which create opportunities for the poor while generating a return. We will also strengthen our partnership with India on global development issues like food security and climate change.

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