A new 2.6 billion dollar pledge to eradicate polio has been announced with major contributions from around the globe, including His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, and Microsoft founder Bill Gates.
The collective pledge from multiple countries and organisations was announced at the Reaching The Last Mile forum in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday, where over 400 leaders in the field gathered to discuss the future of disease elimination by 2030.
The gathering was held at the Louvre in Abu Dhabi and was hosted in partnership between Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in the belief that investing in global health is an effective way to achieve greater prosperity and communities safe from infectious disease.
The one day event followed on from the Global Vaccine Summit in Abu Dhabi in 2013, where four billion US dollars was pledged to eradicate polio by funding a six-year plan from the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.
“The Crown Prince was very generous to host this, he was very generous with the 160 million dollar contribution and the UAE is very helpful to us in terms of partnering on some of the field-based execution,” Gates told journalists.
“While the last steps to eradication are undoubtedly the toughest, I’m optimistic that with the GPEI’s persistence and creativity – and the continued support of partners, donors, and endemic country leaders – we will eradicate polio,” he told the audience in Abu Dhabi.
This year’s Reaching The Last Mile Forum was held under the theme “Accelerating the Pace”, to focus on the complete eradication of several infectious diseases worldwide.
In just over 30 years, since the launch of GPEI, polio cases have been reduced by 99.9% worldwide.
In 1988, the disease affected millions of people in around 125 countries, but today wild polio is found in just Pakistan and Afghanistan.
However, risks are still high until the disease is completely eradicated.
“People lose momentum, they think it’s done so we have to remind that we’re not done yet and if you take your eye off the ballm if you stop working, it will explode again”, explained Curtis Kohlhaas, chief development officer at the Carter Center.
“So to keep it from ever coming back again, we need to finish the job, we need to finish the last mile, we need to finish the last inch.”
Alongside the polio pledging moment at the Reaching The Last Mile forum, significant new funding commitments were also made to tackle a number of preventable infectious diseases, known as Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs).
Next year, on 30th January 2020, the first World NTD Day will take place, to increase awareness of the diseases and encourage further investment in their eradication.
The ELMA Foundation made a significant contribution to the Reaching the Last Mile Fund, a 10-year, 100 million US dollar initiative launched in 2017 by His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, and supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Department for International Development (DFID).
Other donors included Bader Faris Al Hilali, an Abu Dhabi-based philanthropist, who committed nearly three million US dollars to RLMF.
Satellite mapping provider Planet also committed 1 million US dollars in kind, making their advanced satellite services available to RLMF for use in mapping activities.
Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan also launched the Reach Campaign, a new fundraising initiative established to eradicate NTDs.
These diseases - such as river blindness, lymphatic filariasis, and guinea worm - affect around 1.5 billion people worldwide.
And it’s a cause close to the heart of the UAE’s ruling family.
In 1990, the UAE’s founding father Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan joined the efforts of former US President Jimmy Carter in working to eradicate guinea worm.
The disease once affected tens of millions of people but the number of cases reported in 2018 was just 28.
However, the risk has by no means disappeared, according to Katey Owen, director of NTDs at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Recently, thousands of dogs in Chad were found to be carrying the disease, posing a very real threat to human infection.
Owen admitted to the forum that she wasn’t always “100 percent” sure that they would succeed in ending the disease once and for all but said they had to “stay the course”.
In order to eradicate these diseases, a core framework has been put forward by key players to ensure full vaccination.
Alongside political will, enhanced funding and sustainable technology, one of the key aspects to the success of these programmes is a robust and well-supported global health work force on the ground.
The commitment of these frontline health workers was spotlighted through the REACH (Recognising Excellence Around Champions of Health) awards ceremony at the Abu Dhabi event.
Among those honoured was Rahane Lawal, a polio outreach worker and mother of ten, who walks from house to house in Nigeria, sharing information about the disease and its prevention.
However, her work has involved great sacrifice and personal tragedy.
Because of her job and the belief she was paid relatively well, Lawal was kidnapped for a ransom and her father-in-law was killed until her family paid money for her release.
Given the obstacles and dangers, it’s no wonder that people are cautious about joining frontline health work.
A shortage of 18 million people is holding back the success of eradication.
Olivia Ngou, another award winner recognised for her inspirational contribution to the fight against malaria, had contracted the disease several times in her own childhood.
She said it was vital to encourage others to play their part in eradicating preventable diseases.
“We can, together, make the end of malaria our legacy in this generation if we work a little bit harder,” said Ngou.
Also playing a part in tackling the challenge is a new and ever-developing range of technology that helps workers on the ground to both administer better care, and pin point the areas most affected.
Winner of the Game-Changing Innovator award, Dr Richard Kojan was recognised for his collaboration in creating a mobile Ebola treatment device in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The CUBE is a bio-secure emergency care unit which humanises the treatment of Ebola patients.
Dr Kojan noticed from his Ebola treatment work in Guinea that mortality rates were over 30 percent higher when outside of resourced hospitals.
With the portable treatment centres, the patient no longer has to travel great distances from their family while they battle their illness.
“The patient can stay with the community, the patient can stay with their family and that is a big, big difference,” explained Dr Kojan.
“Can you imagine, before the CUBE there was a big, big shock for the patient to discover they have ebola and then have to leave their community.”
As more people work to create a better health system and fund new technologies, there is considerable optimism in the global health community despite the hard work still ahead.
“We have made incredible progress against polio… 18 million people are alive today because of this historic effort, this is the miracle of vaccines,” Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organisation, told the audience in Abu Dhabi.
“We have come so far but we have not yet reached our destination, the last mile is the hardest mile.”
The funds were from a diverse array of donors headlined by $1.08 billion from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and from a diverse array of private donors, country donors and partners including US$160 million from His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi a longterm supporter of polio eradication and country pledges including US$215.92 million from the United States, US$160 million from the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, US$105.05 million from Germany, US$84.17 million from the Federal Government of Nigeria, US$10.83 million from Norway, US$10.29 million from Australia, US$7.4 million from Japan, US$2.22 million from Luxembourg, US$1.34 million from New Zealand, US$116,000 from Spain, and US$10,000 from Liechtenstein; GPEI partners, including US$1.08 billion from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and US$150 million from Rotary International; philanthropic organizations, including US$50 million from Bloomberg Philanthropies, US$25 million from Dalio Philanthropies, US$15 million from the Tahir Foundation, US$6.4 million from the United Nations Foundation, US$2 million from Alwaleed Philanthropies, US$1 million from the Charina Endowment Fund, and US$1 million from Ningxia Yanbao Charity Foundation; and the private sector, including US$1 million from Ahmed Al Abdulla Group, US$1 million from Al Ansari Exchange, and US$340,000 from Kasta Technologies. Earlier this month, the United Kingdom announced it would contribute up to US$514.8 million to the GPEI.