The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation on Sunday (October 16) pledged to invest $1.2 billion towards wiping out polio as health experts from around the world gathered for a summit in Berlin.
"Polio eradication is within reach. But as far as we have come, the disease remains a threat," Bill Gates, co-chair of the foundation, said in a statement.
The sum will be donated to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), a public-private partnership led by national governments that aims to end the disease by 2026.
Polio is a highly contagious illness caused by a virus that enters the central nervous system and damages cells in the spinal cord and brain.
The disease can be fatal, and those who survive are often left paralysed or with atrophied and twisted limbs.
Polio most often affects children under the age of five but can hit anyone who is not vaccinated.
Since its launch in 1988, the GPEI has helped reduce polio cases by more than 99% worldwide, and has prevented more than 20 million cases of paralysis, the foundation said in a statement.
Pakistan and Afghanistan are the only two countries where the wild poliovirus remains endemic, though Malawi and Mozambique also detected imported wild polio cases in 2022.
"Despite this historic progress, interruptions in routine immunisation, vaccine misinformation, political unrest, and the tragic floods in Pakistan in 2022 have underscored the urgent need to finish the job against polio," the foundation said.
Another concern is that "countries that had previously eliminated all forms of poliovirus have recently reported new detections of the virus", such as Britain and the US, it said.
Partners in the GPEI include the World Health Organization (WHO), Rotary International and the the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Vaccination efforts in Afghanistan
Vaccination campaigns have been carried out in Afghanistan this year, but have not been sufficient in eradicating the polio virus.
In May, Shamsher Khan, director of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) polio programme in Afghanistan, said nationwide polio vaccination campaigns were launched across the country.
UNICEF has adequate resources and vaccines, and no Afghan child will be deprived of vaccination, he said in a pre-recorded interview shared with Salaam Times at the time.
Participation of female administrators in polio vaccination campaigns across Afghanistan became stronger this year than in previous years, resulting in an increase in the rate of vaccinations in the country.
"A polio vaccination campaign was launched three times in Afghanistan this year, and 9.9 million Afghan children have received polio vaccine in the last campaign," Khan said at the time.
"More than 3 million [Afghan] children were deprived of polio vaccination because of insecurity in previous years," he added.