Government pledges £100 million to eradicate polio

A child is vaccinated against polio. Credit: PA

The UK is leading the final global push to eliminate polio around the world for good, with the Government pledging £100 million to help tackle the disease.

The package will help immunise up to 45 million children against polio each year until 2020 - when it is hoped the world could be declared polio-free.

The polio virus can cause temporary or permanent paralysis, and while it was wiped out in the UK in the 1980s, following the introduction of routine vaccination in the mid-1950s, and there are currently more than 100,000 British survivors of polio.

Globally, the wild poliovirus still exists in Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan, with eight new cases this year.

The UK's new funding is expected to vaccinate the equivalent of 80 children every minute, saving 65,000 children from paralysis each year.

Administered through the World Health Organisation (WHO), the support should help more than 15,000 polio workers reach every last child at risk, and save healthcare systems across the globe almost £2 billion in treating polio victims.

The unveiling of the pledge was met with delight from billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates, who hailed the move as "fantastic".

Bill Gates has hailed the news as 'fantastic'. Credit: PA

Mr Gates, the Microsoft co-founder and chairman of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said: "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."

International Development Secretary Priti Patel made the announcement. Credit: PA

International Development Secretary Priti Patel said: "Polio has no place in the 21st century.

"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."

Eradicating polio: 10 facts to know

  • Polio mainly affects children under five. One in 200 infections lead to irreversible paralysis

  • Since the World Health Organisation's Global Polio Eradication Initiative was formed, polio cases have fallen by 99%

  • Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria are the only countries who have never managed to stop the prevention of transmission of polio

  • Unlike most other diseases, polio vaccines can be completely success in eradicating the infection

  • A polio vaccine can cost as little as 14 US cents (10 pence).

  • The global effort to eradicate polio is the largest public-private partnership for public health

  • A large-scale vaccination programme in India that included 200 million doses of vaccines administrated by 2.3 million volunteers to 172 million children helped India become a polio-free country in 2014

  • Every child on the planet has to be immunised to completely eradicate the disease which means vaccines have been delivered to remote areas and war zones by helicopter, donkey and motorbike

  • Children are often given a shot of immune-boosting vitamin A alongside a polio jab to increase their chances of fighting off infections

  • 80% of the world is now a certified polio-free region

Source: World Health Organisation

A health worker gives the polio vaccine to a young boy in a remote part of Afghanistan. Credit: AP

The Government says there is still a funding shortfall of around £130 million to achieve the £1.1 billion global investment needed to end polio once and for all.

British paralympian and broadcaster Ade Adepitan, who contracted polio as a baby, said: "The UK has always been a world leader - it can be part of our legacy to be at the forefront of the race to eradicate polio around the world.

"Let's keep doing what we are doing and make the world a better place for future generations.

"We are so close to eradicating polio. We need just one last push to make this disease history and change the world."

Ways you can help and make a donation for those with polio: